Region battles tip off tonight
by JOE CANNON Banner Assistant Sports Editor
Feb 21, 2014 | 769 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Region basketball
THE TSSAA region basketball tournaments gets underway this evening and Saturday, with all eight local teams taking to courts across the area in do-or-die games. The action is expected to be heated, just like the district tournaments were with teams trying to prevent their basketball seasons from coming to an end.  Banner photo, JOE CANNON
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The bell rings on Round 2 of the high school basketball postseason with elimination games for all eight local teams as they slug it out in region tournament openers this evening or tomorrow.

The District 5-AAA champions Bradley Central Bearettes and Walker Valley Mustangs, plus runner-up Cleveland High Blue Raiders, will all defend their home hardwood, while the other five local squads must journey into enemy territory.

The girls will take to the court tonight with Bradley (22-5) playing host to an old familiar foe as former 5-AAA member Rhea County (22-8), comes in having dropped two straight games in the District 6-AAA Tournament to finish fourth. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. at Jim Smiddy Arena.

After battling in the 5-AAA consolation game, Walker Valley (19-11) and Cleveland (13-14) will go mountain hopping to White County (21-7) and Cumberland County (26-4) respectively. Both games have an 8 p.m. start. In the final region opener, Cookeville (14-16) will travel to 6-AAA runner-up McMinn County (11-17).

In Region 3-AA play this evening, Polk County (11-17), the fourth seed from District 5-AA, will travel to District 6-AA champion Brainerd (17-6).

On Saturday, the boys step into the limelight with the top-seeded Mustangs hosting Cumberland County (11-18), while the No. 2 Blue Raiders entertain White County (22-7) at Cleveland Middle School. Both games will begin at 7 p.m.

Having downed Ooltewah (15-11) 67-54 in the 5-AAA consolation game, Bradley (15-11) will return to Cookeville (21-9) for the second time this season, while the Owls will travel to Crossville Saturday to take on 6-AAA champ Stone Memorial (24-6).

In AA action Saturday, Polk County (8-21) will journey to Chattanooga to face 6-AA champion Tyner (21-3), which was ranked ninth in the final state poll earlier this week.

The opening round AAA winners will gather at Cookeville High School next week for the region semifinals and championships, while the AA Final Four will gather at East Ridge High School.

After claiming their fourth straight district title, Coach Jason Reuter’s Bearettes face a team they are very familiar with, although they didn’t play each other during the regular season. The Bradley girls have won their last 20 straight games, as well as 44 of their previous 45 against Rhea County, dating back to the 1993 retirement of legendary coach Jim Smiddy.

After making the TSSAA state tournament field last March, the Bearettes are looking for their fourth consecutive region crown as they try to return to Murfreesboro.

“It’s been a great ride so far, but it’s far from over,” declared Coach Reuter, who is 109-16 since taking of the Bradley program before the 2010-11 season. “There are some very good teams in the other district (6-AAA), but if we keep our heads on straight and don’t have any letdowns, we can win the region again.”

Coach Shane Johnston has brought the Lady Golden Eagles program to a very competitive level the last couple of years, going 19-9 last season year before posting 22 victories so far this campaign. Rhea went 7-3 in its new district this season, including a victory over the very tough Cumberland County girls.

After winning 9-of-10 games earlier in the campaign, the Lady Eagles claimed victory in 11-of-13 contest, before dropping a 74-70 shootout with the Lady Jets in the district semifinals and then being stunned by Cookeville 67-56 in the consolation contest.

Against common opponents this season, Bradley is 8-1, while Rhea is 9-1, with both teams having swept Cleveland, Ooltewah and Soddy-Daisy. Among the five Bearette defeats this year, one was to Cookeville, a team Rhea beat twice during the regular season.

With a 52-44 win to claim third place in the District 5-AAA event, Walker Valley will make the 200-mile round trip to Sparta to face White County, which won the 6-AAA regular season, but fell to Cumberland County 52-47 in the tournament title game. The Lady Spartans have a victory over Walker Valley this season, by a 79-64 tally when the teams met in a preseason Hall of Fame game at “The Stable.”

Cleveland and Cumberland County met twice during the regular season with the high-scoring Lady Jets claiming both games in posting two of their 11 games in which they netted 80 or more points. The girls from Crossville, who at one time were ranked in The Associated Press Top 10 this season, also scored in the 70s 11 times this season.

After claiming back-to-back district titles for the first time since 2008 and 2009, the Walker Valley boys are riding a 10-game winning streak as Cumberland County comes to “The Stable” Saturday evening.

Coach Bob Williams’ thoroughbreds galloped from a fourth-place seed to the district crown for the second straight year and are playing their best basketball of the season.

“The guys have really bought in to the ‘team’ concept of what we want,” the veteran Mustang mentor stated. “You always want to peak at tournament time and we’ve been able to do that again this year.”

Walker Valley has ripped the cords for 310 points in its last four victories and has surpassed the 70-point mark eight times this season.

Coming off an emotional 68-63 battle with the Mustangs for the district title, head coach Jason McCowan’s Raiders face a stiff challenge from a 22-win White County squad. Winners of 13 of their previous 16 games, Cleveland faces a Spartan team that started the campaign 10-1 and has won eight of its last 10 contests. The last time these two teams met, Cleveland claimed a 59-52 victory in the 2011 region tournament.

After falling to Cookeville by 24 points in the season opener, Bradley stunned the District 6-AAA runners-up 55-48 just before Christmas. The Cavaliers had won 13 of their previous 16 games before falling to Stone Memorial 64-55 in the 6-AAA championship contest.

Bradley and Cookeville also met in the opening round of last year’s region event with the Bears claiming a 66-56 victory. The Bears are 8-4 against the Cavaliers since 2000.