Saturday night they kicked that door in.
Two years ago it was a senior-laden Blackman team that came to “The Jim” and kept the young Bearettes from going to Murfreesboro.
Saturday night, the roles were reversed as the experienced third-ranked Bradley squad held off a late charge by the very young fourth-ranked Lady Blaze for a 55-46 victory to punch their ticket to MTSU’s Murphy Center.
“We got on the ropes a couple of times, but we didn’t get rattled, battled back and hit our free throws down the stretch to pull it off,” said Bradley head coach Jason Reuter. “These girls’ [the Bearettes’] will to win tonight was amazing. I don’t think there would have been many teams who could have come in here and beat us tonight.”
Amidst the celebration of the first Bearette substate victory in 19 years and their first state tournament bid since 2000, some concern loomed as there was uncertainity about whether one of their stars would be allowed to play once they get to Middle Tennessee.
Six-foot-two junior post Rebecca Reuter, the coach’s daughter, uncharacteristically picked up a pair of questionable fourth-quarter technical foul calls from the same referee, the second coming after he had whistled her for her fifth foul.
“We’re not sure what is going to happen,” Reuter said. “It’s a tough break, and we’re not sure what’s going to come ot it since the second technical came after she had fouled out.”
By TSSAA rules, if a basketball player or coach is ejected from a game, they must sit out the next two games. However, since she had already fouled out of the game at the time of the second technical and was not ejected from the bench area, Bradley is hoping there will be some leeway.
The draw for the state tournament will be held this afternoon at 3, with a live webcast through the TSSAA website. The state tournament begins Wednesday with all four Class AAA games tipping things off beginning at 11 a.m.
The other teams to earn a spot in the Elite Eight are: top-ranked Riverdale (32-0,) a 74-32 winner over White County (21-13); second-ranked Science Hill (33-3), a 68-60 winner over Farragut (28-5); Bearden (25-7), a 57-50 winner over Tennessee High (26-7); Antioch (26-6), a 55-50 winner over Beech (25-9); Brentwood (21-11), a 64-50 winner over Mt. Juliet (24-10); ninth-ranked Memphis Central (26-4), a 55-45 winner over Munford (27-6) and Memphis Overton (29-6), an 80-54 winner over Jackson North Side (13-20).
Blackman (27-6) jumped out to quick 6-3 and 13-5 leads Saturday evening before the Bearettes (29-2) got on track.
Senior sharpshooter Kayla Withrow started a 12-2 Bradley run with her second of five 3-pointers on the evening. District 5-AAA Player of the Year Brooke Copeland finished it with a baseline jumper with 45 seconds to go in the opening period for the first Bearette lead of the night.
The Lady Blaze were able to tie the game 30 seconds later when 6-foot-3 Jazz Bond scored on a fast break, but Copeland got a hoop and some harm for an old fashioned three-point play with only one second on the clock to put the hosts up 20-17 at the first break.
After the teams combined for a 37-point opening eight minutes, the second frame saw just 16 total points.
Blackman was able to fight back to even the score at 24-all at the 4:34 mark of the period, but the Bearette defense was kept them off the board the rest of the half. Junior Whitney Donaldson drove to the hoop for a basket, and Withrow drilled her second long-range bomb of the frame to put the home team up 29-24 at the intermission.
Coming out of the locker rooms, Copeland took control scoring all 11 Bearette points in the third frame as the lead swelled to 13 at one point. The 6-foot-2 junior not only made another three-point play, but after getting fouled while making another basket, grabbed the offensive rebound after missing the ensuing free throw and put the rock back in the hole for another two points.
Down a dozen going into the final frame, Blackman took advantage of some Bearette mistakes to close the gap to eight, but once again Bradley responded to go back up by 13 with 3:08 left to play.
Just 39 seconds later, Reuter was whistled for a charging foul after grabbing a rebound and then assessed her second technical of the period with 2:29 on the clock.
Crystal Dangerfield netted the two technical free throws and then added a jumper from the lane after the Lady Blaze had inbounded the ball. Bradley then turned the ball over twice in a row, the second of which was a steal in the paint and a basket by Dangerfield pulling the visitors within six.
Bradley then missed a pair of free throws and when Bond grabbed an offensive board and put it back in the difference was just four points.
The teams then traded a couple of free throw apiece to make the score 50-46 with 41 seconds remaining, but the Bearettes made five of their final six charity tosses and the visitors couldn’t find the bottom of the net on four shots the rest of the way.
“We showed a lot of heart. We stuck with our game plan. Even though we made some mistakes, we did what we needed to do to get the job done” Reuter said proudly.
Copeland led all scorers with 23 points, including 7-of-10 shooting from the foul line, plus she pulled down a dozen rebounds, blocked three shots, handed out a trio of assists and had a steal.
Along with draining five 3-pointers, Withrow nailed 3-of-4 free throws for 18 points, while Reuter cleaned the glass for 11 caroms, scored a half dozen points, handed out a pair of helps and blocked a shot.
Blackman had three players to score in double figures with Dangerfield collecting 15, Bond adding a dozen, five boards and a couple of blocks and Alex Johnson netting 11 points.
TSSAA Girls’ Sectional Game
Blackman 17 7 4 18 — 46
Bradley Central 20 9 11 15 — 55
LADY BLAZE (46) — Crystal Dangerfield 15, Jazz Bond 12, Alex Johnson 11, Pollock 8, Allen, Killings, Miller.
BEARETTES (55) — Brooke Copeland 23, Kayla Withrow 18, Rebecca Reuter 6, Brandi Whitted 4, Whitney Donaldson 4, Carroll.
3-POINTERS: Blackman 2 (Pollock 2); Bradley 5 (Withrow 5).
FREE THROWS: Blackman 10-of-15; Bradley 16-of-25.
RECORDS: Blackman 26-5; Bradley 29-2.