SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Bradley Central coach Jason Reuter wanted his Bearettes to face some better competition this holiday season, so instead of the team’s usual post-Christmas trip to Florida, he took them to South Carolina and found what he was looking for.
Battling a pair of state champions and a defending state runner-up, the Black-and-Gold advanced to the championship game of the Upward Classic, but then tasted defeat for the first time this season Saturday afternoon.
Starting the event with a 20-point victory over Fayette County, the 2011 Georgia Class 4A champs, Bradley downed the host Dorman squad, which was the state runner-ups in South Carolina last season, by a 53-46 score Friday to earn a shot at the title.
In a battle of unbeatens, the Bearettes ran into a very tough Millbrook squad, which has played in the last two North Carolina Class 4A state title games. After a runner-up finish in 2011, the Lady Wildcats went 31-2 and claimed the state crown last March.
This year’s Millbrook squad features seven college signees or commitments, while Bradley is coming off losing six collegiate players off last year’s 32-2 squad that missed the state tournament field in an overtime substate loss.
The first team this season to hold Bradley under 50 points, the Lady Wildcats held off a late Bearette charge for a 45-38 tally to claim the Upward tournament title.
Now 12-1 on the campaign, Bradley will play host to White County Saturday evening before turning its attention back to the District 5-AAA race with a trip to Rhea County Jan. 8.
LADY WILDCATS 45
Doing what no other team has done this season by holding the Bradley starters to single-digit scoring in not just one but both of the first two frames, the girls from Raleigh, N.C., led 9-6 at the close of the first period and then stretched their advantage to 14 points at the intermission.
Coach Reuter’s crew came out after the half and outscored Millbrook (10-0) in the final 16 minutes, shaving five points off the difference in the third quarter and pulling within two points of the lead with two minutes remaining.
However,a turnover allowed the Lady Wildcats to net another basket to go up by four points, forcing the Bearettes into a fouling situation in an effort to get back into the contest, but to no avail as Millbrook sealed the tournament title at the free throw line.
With a 6-foot-4 and a 6-foot player to counter Bradley’s 6-foot-2 “Twin Towers,” the Lady Wildcats won the battle of the boards by a 34-30 margin and took advantage of 20 Bearette turnovers, while committing just nine miscues themselves.
Although they made 14-of-16 free throws in the contest, the Bradley girls struggled from the field, hitting just 2-of-15 3-pointers and was just 9-for-21 in front of the arc.
Millbrook hit just 35 percent of its shots, making 3-of-10 from long range and 15-for-42 close in, plus went 6-of-10 at the charity stripe. Six-foot Ryan Flowers topped all scorers with 16 points, while Alex Tomlinson added 11 for the Lady Wildcats.
Juniors Brooke Copeland and Rebecca Reuter led the way for the Bearettes. Copeland pumped in 13 points, cleared a half dozen rebounds and blocked three shots. Reuter posted a double-double with 10 points and 13 caroms.
Senior Brandi Whitted and junior Whitney Donaldson each sank a 3-pointer on their way to seven and six points respectively.
LADY CAVALIERS 46
Trailing at the end of the opening period for the first time this season didn’t deter Bradley as it rallied from a 14-10 deficit to even the score at 27-all by the halftime buzzer.
Continuing to battle tooth-and-nail after the intermission, the Bearettes were able to edge ahead of the hosts by four points by the close of the third frame and then inched the lead out to seven by the final horn Friday to earn a spot in the title game.
A trio of Bearettes netted double figures Friday with Copeland and Donaldson pumping in 16 points apiece, while Rebecca Reuter was right behind with 14.
Copeland added eight rebounds and five blocks to her tally, while Donaldson hit 4-of-7 two-pointers, 2-of-3 3s and dished out a trio of assists. Reuter had another double-double with 10 caroms to go along with her scoring total.
Senior Kayla Withrow hit Bradley’s other 3-pointer on her way to five points and a pair of steals in the victory.
The Bearettes sank 17-of-31 (55 percent) from in front of the 19-foot arc, and went 3-for-10 from beyond it, plus netted 10-of-14 free throws.
After making a pair of late baskets to slip past upper-East Tennessee power Elizabethton 50-48 in the opening round, Dorman (8-3) made just 1-of-13 long-range shots and went 19-for-44 from close range. The Lady Cavaliers also made just 3-of-9 charity shots.
Bradley won the rebounding battle by a 35-30 margin, but had to overcome 26 turnovers, while Dorman only had nine miscues.
Millbrook, N.C. 9 18 7 11 — 45
Bradley Central 6 7 12 13 — 38
LADY WILDCATS (45) — Ryan Flowers 16, Alex Tomlinson 11, Jones 8, Hinton 3, Day 3, Best 2.
BEARETTES (38) — Brooke Copeland 13, Rebecca Reuter 10, Whitted 7, Donaldson 6, Withrow 2, Carroll, Davis.
3-POINTERS: Millbrook 3 (Jones 2, Hinton); Bradley 2 (Donaldson, Whitted).
FREE THROWS: Millbrook 6-of-10; Bradley 14-of-16.
RECORDS: Millbrook 10-0; Bradley 12-1.
Bradley Central 10 17 15 11 — 53
Dorman, S.C. 14 13 11 8 — 46
BEARETTES (53) — Brooke Copeland 16, Whitney Donaldson 16, Rebecca Reuter 14, Withrow 5, Carroll 2, Whitted, Davis.
LADY CAVALIERS (46) —Krystal Samuels 11, Biajah Surratt 10, Sims 8, Jones 6, Rogers 6, Webb 5.
3-POINTERS: Bradley 3 (Donaldson 2, Withrow); Dorman 1 (Webb).
FREE THROWS: Bradley 10-of-14; Dorman 3-of-9.
RECORDS: Bradley 12-0; Dorman 8-3.