With the district tournaments complete, the TSSAA basketball postseason is down to 64 teams in each classification. By this time next week only 16 will remain.
The Region 3-AAA tournaments will get under way with satellite games Friday and Saturday, being played at the home of the district champions and runners-up.
The girls will tip off the “do-or-die” action tomorrow evening with both third-ranked Bradley Central and Cleveland High hosting games, while Walker Valley and McMinn County will head over the mountains to open on the road.
Notching their 48th straight victory over a conference opponent with a 53-43 win over Cleveland to capture their third straight District 5-AAA title, the Bearettes will host longtime nemesis Cumberland County at “The Jim” (Jim Smiddy Arena).
Coach Jason Reuter’s Black-and-Gold squad is 25-2 on the season, with both losses coming against state champions in North Carolina and Georgia.
After advancing to the TSSAA substate playoffs last season, the Lady Jets are just 10-21 this time around and finished fourth in the District 6-AAA Tournament.
Bradley and Cumberland met in the region championship game last season in Crossville in the game where District 5-AAA Player of the Year Caroline Smith was knocked out with an elbow to the face, causing a concussion and stitches in her mouth.
Although the Bearettes beat the Lady Jets 82-42 for the region title, the injury prevented Smith from playing in the substate game two days later, which Bradley lost 43-42 to Lawrence County to miss out on a state tournament berth.
As the 5-AAA runner-up, Cleveland (18-9) will play host to White County (19-11) Friday. The Warriorettes defeated Cumberland 60-37 in the District 6-AAA third-place game Monday.
The Lady Raiders have three common opponents with White County as both played Bradley, Walker Valley and McMinn County this season. Cleveland is 3-5 against those three teams, while the Warriorettes are 2-3.
The last time the Lady Raiders played White County, they defeated the girls from Sparta on their own court by a 50-42 margin in the 2011 region opener.
Walker Valley (15-15) will make the 100-mile journey to Cookeville Friday evening to take on the District 6-AAA champion Lady Cavaliers (21-10) in an 8 p.m. tipoff.
After winning seven of their last nine regular season games, the Lady Mustangs eliminated Rhea County in the opening round of the district tournament before running into Bradley in the semifinals and falling to McMinn County in the consolation game.
Cookeville, which opened the season with a 19-point victory over McMinn County, has won 10 of its last 11 games, including a sweep of the 6-AAA tournament with a pair of double-digit victories over Cumberland and Coffee County.
Enjoying their best record in many years, McMinn County (19-8) will make the steep climb over Monteagle Mountain to Manchester to face Coffee County (15-14) Friday evening.
With all three Bradley County teams in the field, the odds are in the locals’ favor to claim the county’s 10th straight region title. Each of the county teams have claimed three region crowns since 2004. Bradley has won the last two, plus 2004, while Cleveland captured top honors in 2005, 2006 and 2008, plus Walker Valley 2007, 2009 and 2010.
The Region 3-AAA semifinals and championship will be held back at the Raider Dome on Monday and Wednesday of next week.
Both Polk County teams will open Region 3-AA play Friday evening against District 6-AA champions.
After fourth place finishes in the District 5-AA Tournament, the Wildkittens (6-22) will travel to East Hamilton (22-9) at 6:30 Friday, while the Wildcats (7-23) will head to Howard (23-5) for a 7:30 tip.
The Lady Hurricanes are riding an 11-game winning streak and claimed the 6-AA girls’ title with a 57-51 victory over Howard earlier this week.
The Hustlin’ Tigers have won 17 of their last 19, including a 75-64 win over Brainerd for the boys’ crown.
The Polk-Howard boys game will be the back end of a doubleheader with the Howard girls taking on Meigs County at 6.
In the other two 3-AA girls openers, Tyner (10-16) will travel to Sequoyah (19-8), while Brainerd (13-13) will head to Englewood to face third-ranked McMinn Central (26-3).
The Region 3-AA semifinals and championships will be held at McMinn County High School next week.