Although the first four minutes didn’t look like typical “Bearette basketball,” the rest of the game certainly did as Bradley Central secured its third straight trip to the TSSAA Sectional Playoffs Monday evening at the Raider Dome.
Facing their oldest rivals, the third-ranked Bearettes couldn’t find the bottom of the net for the opening 242 ticks, but once they did the floodgates opened and a trio of double-doubles helped Bradley breeze to a 72-51 victory over McMinn County in the Region 3-AAA semifinal contest.
“We sort of stumbled out of the gate, but once the ball started going in, we were shooting with confidence and playing with the swagger we need this time of year,” commented head coach Jason Reuter, who is now 85-10 since taking over the Bearette program three seasons ago.
The 39th straight victory over a fellow District 5-AAA team advances Bradley (27-2) to Wednesday night’s region championship game against White County (21-11), which upset District 6-AAA champion Cookeville 43-32 in Monday night’s finale.
The Bearettes swept the Warriorettes 67-50 in Sparta and 55-44 at Jim Smiddy Arena. The title game will tip off at 7 Wednesday evening.
The Region 3-AAA boys semifinals are on tap this evening with rematches of last week’s District 5-AAA semifinal pairings.
District champ Walker Valley (19-11) will take on Ooltewah (18-9), which it defeated on a buzzer-beating 50-foot heave, at 6 p.m., while archrivals Bradley Central (17-12) and host Cleveland High (18-11) will square off at 7:30.
The last time the Bradley and McMinn County (20-9) girls met in January, the Lady Cherokees got off to a strong start and led after the opening period. After the Bearettes were able to edge ahead by three points at the intermission, a 32-2 run in the second half secured a 26-point victory.
Monday evening the girls from Athens came out on fire once again, scoring 10 of the game’s first dozen points as Bradley missed its first four shots from the field and turned the ball over three times.
Coming off a career-high 26 points in the region opener, senior Kayla Withrow got the Bearettes going with a 3-ball from the corner pocket with the clock reading 3:58.
After hitting their first five shots of the night, McMinn County went scoreless (0-for-8) the remainder of the opening period as Bradley went on a 12-0 run.
With four different players scoring in the rally, District 5-AAA Player of the Year Brooke Copeland took a dish from junior classmate Whitney Donaldson for a basket from the paint with 1:10 on the clock to give the Bearettes their first lead of the night. They wouldn’t relinquish it, leading 14-10 at the first horn, thanks to another Withrow “bomb.”
The second frame started similar to the first as the Lady Cherokees dropped in the first two baskets to even the score, but junior Rebecca Reuter started a 13-0 Bradley streak with a driving basket at the 6:05 mark.
After the lead stretched to 15 points twice, McMinn County was able to net the final four points of the first half from the free-throw line to cut the difference to 33-22 as the teams went to the locker rooms.
Withrow got things going again in the second half with her fourth 3-pointer of the night as the Bearette offense hit its peak with a 21-point quarter, while giving up just a dozen.
In the final frame, McMinn sharpshooter Haley Ward drained four 3-pointers, plus Alisa Guardiola hit a pair of free throws and an old fashioned three-point play in the final minute as the Lady Cherokees tried to rally, but Bradley was still able to add another point to its lead before the final buzzer.
The Bearettes drained 20-of-33 shots (61 percent) from in front of the arc and 7-of-15 (47 percent) from beyond it, plus tacked on 11-for-13 (85 percent) at the foul line to boot.
The “Twin Towers” once again led the way for the victors with both Copeland and Reuter posting double-doubles. Copeland led all scorers with 25 points, plus pulled down 14 rebounds, while Reuter netted a dozen points and cleaned the glass for 13 caroms.
Donaldson and Withrow both tickled the twine for 12 points, with Donaldson adding 11 assists to complete her double-double. Withrow handed out five helps of her own.
Bradley won the rebounding battle by a 33-25 margin, but also turned the ball over more, 15-12.
McMinn County shot just 28 percent (16-for-56) from the floor, with seven of the made baskets coming from beyond the 19-foot arc. The Lady Cherokees were a perfect 12-for-12 at the charity stripe.
Ward sizzled the nylon for 19 points in her final high school game, while Guardiola added a baker’s dozen and KeKe Smith chipped in with 11 points.
LADY CAVALIERS 32
After dropping a pair of games by five points apiece to Cookeville (22-11) during the regular season, White County was able to end their archrivals’ season with an 11-point outcome to earn their first substate bids in more than a dozen years.
The score was knotted at 7-all at the first horn, but then the girls from Sparta doubled up their neighbors to the north in the second frame for a low-scoring 17-12 tally at the half.
The scoring was still hard to come by in the third period as well with White County posting an 8-6 edge to lead by seven points heading into the last quarter.
Cookeville was able to rally to pull within 32-29 with 2:12 remaining but that was as close as they would get as the Warriorettes netted 11 of the games’s final 14 points.
Allyson Quillen, Loren Foster, Krista King and Kelsey Roberts led the balanced White County scoring with 10, nine, eight and seven points respectively. Lacha Wilson pulled down nine rebounds for the victors, while King snatched seven.
Sydney Robinson topped the Cookeville effort with 13 points and eight caroms, while Karagan Turner netted seven points and Hannah Goolsby added four and cleared five boards.
Region 3-AAA semifinals
McMinn County 10 12 12 17 — 51
Bradley Central 14 19 21 18 — 72
LADY CHEROKEES (51) — Haley Ward 19, Alisa Guardiola 13, KeKe Smith 11, Rachel Burke 4, Madison Dispensa 4, Ebony Kelley, Shondra Thompson, Grace Lockmiller.
BEARETTES (72) — Brooke Copeland 25, Kayla Withrow 12, Rebecca Reuter 12, Whitney Donaldson 12, Taelor Hill 5, Brandi Whitted 4, Baylee Carroll 2, Maggie Thompson, Lindsey Davis, Mady Stallings, Kayla Delane, Lydia Pippenger.
3-point goals: McMinn 7 (Ward 4, Smith 3); Bradley 7 (Withrow 4, Copeland, Donaldson, Hill).
Free throws: McMinn 12-of-12; Bradley 11-of-13.
Records: McMinn Co. 20-9; Bradley Central 27-2.
White County 7 10 8 18 — 43
Cookeville 7 5 6 14 — 32
WARRIORETTES (51) — Allyson Quillen 10, Loren Foster 9, Krista King 8, Kelsey Roberts 7, Bella Taylor 5, Lacha Wilson 2, Amber Hutchens 2.
LADY CAVALIERS (32) — Sydney Robinson 13, Karagan Turner 7, Hannah Goolsby 4, Zoe Sims 3, Alison Odom 3, Sydney Marek 2.
3-point goals: White 2 (King, Roberts); Cookeville 3 (Robinson, Sims, Odom).
Records: White County 21-11; Cookeville 22-11.