CROSSVILLE — Coming off one of their “most complete game” of the season, Bradley Central’s fourth-ranked Bearettes seemed out of sync in Monday night’s Region 3-AAA semifinal battle, but still came away with a double-digit victory and their 13th TSSAA sub-state berth in the past 18 years.
“Hopefully this was our D-minus game for the postseason and now we can get back to our ‘A’ game,” commented second-year head coach Jason Reuter. “I didn’t have to browbeat them (the Bearettes) after the game. They knew we didn’t play good.”
After scoring just 21 points in the opening half, Bradley bounced back for 35 points in the final 16 minutes for a 56-39 win over District 6-AAA runner-up Coffee County.
Claiming their 26th straight victory to tie coach Paul Cretton’s 1993-94 team’s mark, the Bearettes earned a spot in Wednesday evening’s region championship game against the host Cumberland County squad. The Lady Jets knocked off 6-AAA champion White County by a 49-44 margin in Monday’s nightcap.
Both Bradley (31-1) and Cumberland (19-14) also earned a spot in Saturday’s TSSAA sub-state round, where they will face either Lawrence County (25-6) or top-ranked Murfreesboro Riverdale (29-3).
In tonight’s boys’ region semifinals, District 5-AAA champion Bradley (26-5) will face off against its oldest rival, McMinn County (18-12) at 7, while Ooltewah (24-4) will battle 6-AAA winner Cookeville (28-5) in the finale.
Tonight’s victors will square off Thursday at 8 p.m. for the region title, plus earn a spot in Monday’s sub-state action.
After the Bearettes scored on the opening possession when District 5-AAA Player of the Year Caroline Smith found sophomore sensation Brooke Copeland open under the basket, things kind of slowed down for a while.
Getting a pair of steals before Coffee County (15-17) could get off its first shot, Bradley couldn’t convert, missing one shot and turning over the ball on the other try.
The Lady Red Raiders missed on their first two field goal attempts, but pulling down a pair of offensive rebounds led to their first basket to even the game.
After another Bearette turnover and a missed Lady Raider 3-point attempt, Bradley put up two quick buckets by Smith on a baseline jumper and a fast break after another steal.
After a timeout, Coffee pulled back within one with and old-fashioned three-point play but that was as close as the girls from Manchester would come as Bradley led 12-9 at the end of the frame and 21-15 at the half.
When the teams came out of the halftime locker rooms, Copeland took over the game, netting Bradley’s first 14 points of the third quarter as the advantage swelled to 36-22.
The final eight minutes saw both offenses shift into high gear with the Bearettes claiming a 21-17 scoring edge for their lowest margin of victory (17) since November.
“It wasn’t the prettiest of wins, but I won’t complain too much since we won,” remarked Reuter. “Coffee wasn’t intimidated by us and played extremely hard. I know if we play like this and hit just 16-of-28 free throws in the region championship or substate, we won’t win.
“Hopefully this will serve as a wake-up call. We’ll learn from our mistakes,” he added. “We’re 31-1 and I’m proud of these girls. We actually shot better than I thought.”
The Bearettes shot 44 percent from the field, hitting 17-of-37 in front of the 19-foot arc and just 2-of-6 from long range.
Coffee struggled not only from the field, hitting just 13-of-47 attempts, but at the line as well, making only 9-of-19 free throws.
Copeland finished with 19 points to lead all scorers, 17 of which came in the second half. The 6-foot-1 post, who finished just a couple of votes behind Smith for the District Player of the Year honors, also cleaned the glass for a dozen rebounds for a double-double, plus she blocked five shots and copped a pair of steals.
Sophomore Rebecca Reuter, the other half of the “Twin Towers” at 6-foot-2, came off the bench to post 14 points, seven caroms and a pair of blocks.
Smith tallied 13 points, four boards, three assists and a couple of steals. Senior Keila Formont helped out with five steals and two assists, while Lee University signee Kayla Beavers added five points, four helps, three rebounds and two thefts.
Tori Taylor and Ginny Clayborne topped the Lady Raiders with 11 points apiece, with Taylor drilling a trio of treys and pulling down seven rebounds.
Bradley won the backboard battle by a 35-27 margin, but both teams struggled to hold onto the ball, with Coffee committing 19 turnovers while the Bearettes had 16 miscues.
Coffee County 9 6 7 17 — 39
Bradley Central 12 9 14 21 — 56
Lady Red Raiders (33) — Tori Taylor 11, Ginny Clayborne 11, Reid 7, Buchanan 5, Lusk 3, Miller 2, Jones.
Bearettes (56) — Brooke Copeland 19, Rebecca Reuter 14, Caroline Smith 13, Beavers 5, Formont 3, Hammond 2, Withrow, Summars, McCracken.
3-pointers: Coffee 4 (Taylor 3, Clayborne); Bradley 2 (Copeland, Beavers 2).
Free Throws: Coffee 9-of-19; Bradley 16-of-28.
Records: Coffee County 15-17; Bradley 31-1.