Everybody assumes the way to beat the Bradley Central Bearettes is to stop the “Twin Towers,” a task that is easier said than done.
However, the four-time District 5-AAA champions proved they are more than just a “two-trick pony” Friday evening in a convincing 62-34 victory over a 22-win Rhea County team in the opening round of the Region 3-AAA Tournament.
“There’s no secret that our bread-and-butter is the ‘Twin Towers’ [6-foot-2 NCAA Division I signees Brooke Copeland and Rebecca Reuter], but we showed tonight they aren’t our only weapons,” declared Bearette head coach Jason Reuter.
With its 23rd win of the season, Bradley advances to the region semifinals Monday evening at Cookeville High School, where the Black-and-Gold will tangle with District 6-AAA regular season champ and tournament runner-up White County (22-7). The Lady Spartans advanced with a 59-47 victory over Walker Valley Friday in Sparta. The rematch of last year’s region championship game will tip off at 7 p.m.
In the other region semifinal Monday, 6-AAA champ Cumberland County (27-4), a 73-31 winner over Cleveland High Friday, will take on 5-AAA runner-up McMinn County (12-17), which prevented Cookeville from playing on its home floor in a 54-47 opening round battle. The Lady Jets and Lady Cherokees will play at 8:30 p.m. Monday.
Monday’s winners will square off for the region crown Wednesday at 8 p.m., plus advance to TSSAA Sectional Games on Saturday. Going 13-1 on its home court so far this season, Bradley is working toward hosting its fourth straight substate game.
With its tallest starters measuring 5-foot-7, Rhea County packed the paint with a tight zone defense to combat the height difference Friday evening at Jim Smiddy Arena, while looking for its first victory in their last 21 games against the Bearettes.
Taking what the defense was giving, Bradley uncharacteristically began to bomb away from beyond the 3-point arc but missed its first five shots from distance. If fact, neither team connected on the game’s initial 10 shots.
“It was a weird game at first, with neither team being able to score [for almost three minutes], but Chelsea [Summars] and ‘EK’ [Emma Kate Brown] got things going from outside, and we started to go,” the Bradley mentor remarked.
Summars, the Bearette junior point guard, drilled the game’s first basket from beyond the arc with 5:04 remaining on the opening period clock. She drilled another “trey” a minute and a half later, while Brown, a freshman swing player, added a fast-break basket after a Summars’ steal and assist, plus a long-range bomb of her own in the final 30 ticks of the first frame to give the hosts a 13-2 advantage at the first buzzer.
Summars and Brown each drained another 3-pointer in the second period to go with Reuter and Copeland’s first field goals and one from freshman Halle Hughes, for a 26-10 halftime Bradley advantage.
After the intermission, the “Twin Towers” took center stage against a very physical Rhea defense. After combining for just seven points in the opening half, the pair scored all but two of Bradley’s points in the third period and then combined for 17 more while playing just part of the final frame.
“Rhea was prepared for us and played good, but our guards made some big shots to open things up for us,” declared Rebecca Reuter.
“Rhea always plays hard-nosed, physical ball, so we knew it was going to be that kind of game. We were able to do what we needed to do to win,” added Copeland, who hit the hardwood several times in the contest. “We played good defense and took care of business. This was an elimination game, and we knew they’d bring everything they have.”
Two of the best in Bearette history, Copeland and Reuter both finished with their usual double-doubles, netting 17 points apiece, plus 12 and 11 rebounds respectively. Copeland also blocked four Lady Eagle shots, while Reuter copped a pair of steals.
Reuter, who signed with Middle Tennessee State University, was honored before the game for recently surpassing the 1,000-mark for her career, as she now ranks 16th on the all-time Bearette scoring list with 1,057 points. Copeland, a University of Florida signee, ranks 10th on the same list with 2,151 points.
“Brooke and Becca have a ‘will to win’ and will fight to the finish,” praised Coach Reuter. “We’ve talked out them finishing up their careers, and they are determined that there is still plenty more to go. It will be an end of an era, but the last chapter hasn’t been written yet.”
Brown helped out with a dozen points in Friday’s victory, plus had pulled down a trio of caroms, plus swiped a pair of thefts. Summars finished with three goals from “downtown” on her way to 11 points, plus she dished out five assists and copped a pair of steals.
“Chelsea and ‘EK’ had the open shots early and made them [Rhea] pay for leaving them open,” Coach Reuter commented. “It’s no secret that we play and inside/out game, but these girls have shown you just can’t just pack it in on us.”
As a team, Bradley shot 44 percent (15-of-34) from two-point land, and 35 percent (6-for-17) from “distance,” plus added 14-of-19 free throws. The Bearettes won backboard battle by a 38-22 margin.
Rhea County struggled from the field, making just 6-of-21 (29 percent) from in front of the arc and only 4-for-22 (18 percent) from beyond it.
“We would make a shot and even get a stop, but couldn’t get the second shot and some momentum that led to another shot,” said Lady Eagle coach Shane Johnston, who was without senior point guard Kelsey Miles due to a knee injury that may require surgery. “No excuses. We played as hard as we could and just came up short.”
Jessee Wallis and Amber Levi led the Rhea attack with 13 and 11 points respectively, while Julie Brown added eight.
The Lady Eagles posted their first 20-win season in many years, finishing 22-9. The 41-year-old Johnston now turns his attention to open-heart surgery, which is scheduled for next week to correct a “defect in his aorta.”
Region 3-AAA Girls Tournament
Rhea County 2 8 9 15 — 34
Bradley Central 13 13 12 24 — 62
LADY EAGLES (34) —Jessee Wallis 13, Amber Levi 11, Brown 8, Freeman 2, Davis, Revis, Loden, Thurman, Keen, McClendon, Rader, Carder, Miles.
BEARETTES (62) — Brooke Copeland 17, Rebecca Reuter 17, Emma Kate Brown 12, Chelsie Summars 11, Hughes 2, Delane 2, K. Brown 1, Stallings, Davis, Brumfiel, McRee.
3-POINTERS: Rhea 4 (Wallis 2, Brown, Levi); Bradley 6 (Summars 3, EK Brown 2, Reuter).
FREE THROWS: Rhea 10-of-12; Bradley 14-of-19.
RECORDS: Rhea County 22-9; Bradley 23-5.