Bradley Central girls basketball coach Jason Reuter was forced to follow the latter path Monday night after the Bearettes were forced to claw through early foul trouble in the Region 3-AAA semifinals.
In the end, the Bearettes (24-5) lived to play another day, and they did it in style, eliminating White County by a 52-33 margin to earn a shot at their fourth straight region championship, as well as securing the same amount of TSSAA Sectional berths. Bradley will face District 6-AAA champion Cumberland County (28-4), which advanced with an 84-54 victory over the McMinn County Lady Cherokees.
After battling through an uneasy first half that saw a pair of Bradley starters pick up three fouls and another get whistled for two, the Bearettes flexed their muscles in the final two quarters to win going away.
“A little bit of foul trouble?” a happy Reuter joked afterward. “When you play hard, you are going to put yourself in a position where you are going to foul. We just don’t want silly fouls. The game was called pretty tight.”
Bearettes starters Rebecca Reuter and Chelsie Summars all picked up three fouls each, while Emma Kate Brown had a pair called on her in the first two periods, forcing Reuter to adjust his game plan and coaching philosophy on the fly.
“It changed everything,” said Reuter. “I rolled the dice. My philosophy is two fouls and you sit in the first half. Rebecca had played with two fouls before. I looked at her and she said, ‘I can do it.’ So I took a chance.”
The role of the dice payed off in the end for Reuter and the Bearettes.
Despite the three fouls hanging over thier heads, Summars and Reuter both returned in the second half to play nearly flawless basketball before Reuter finally reached the limit of five fouls with less than two minutes left in the game. Summars picked up only one more foul in the second half.
“They did a great job. Rebecca fouled out with 1:19 left [but] the game was over. Kudos to her, kudos to Chelsie,” lauded the Bearettes’ coach.
The Bearettes struggled but still managed to build an 11-4 lead over the Lady Warriors — who never led — after the first eight minutes.
White County battled back in the second quarter to challenge the Bradley girls in a big way, cutting the Bearettes cushion at halftime to 17-14.
Brooke Copeland, who scored 19 points to lead the Bearettes, and Reuter, who ended with 16, provided the entire Bradley scoring production in the first half with Copeland fighting for nine and Reuter fighting for eight.
“It was a very slow start. It’s a wonder we got to 52. We go in at halftime with 17, that means we scored 35 in the second half,” said an impressed Reuter.
The Bearettes came back in the third quarter with a renewed determination and their feet firmly planted on the ground.
The whistles heard by Bradley Central in the first half were virtually nonexistent in the third quarter, opening the door for “Twin Towers” Copeland and Reuter to pile in points from the paint. Copeland’s 19 points and Reuter’s 16 were never a given for 32 minutes with a fierce White County defense riding the facade of the Towers the whole game.
The pressure from the Warriorettes did little in the long run to slow down an equally determined Bearette offensive attack, particularly in the third quarter.
The Bearettes bested their first half total scoring output by one point on their way to an 18-point third period. Bradley fought its way through the outstretched arms of the Warriorettes and built a 28-16 lead when Brown hit the only 3-pointer of the night for the Bearettes with 3:03 left in the third.
“We were 1-for-8 from the 3-point line. Eight is not a tremendous amount. I was concerned, but luckily the size and the rebounding of Rebecca and Brooke was enough to overcome that [cold long-range shooting],” said Reuter. “We are a better-shooting team than that. My girls may have not hit many, but they were smart enough to get the ball where it needed to go.”
The Bearettes were 17-of-36 from inside the line while the Warriorettes were 8-of-25. White County went 2-of-12 from 3-point range.
Both teams had only five turnovers.
The Bearettes made up for much of the first half’s lack of solid offensive play with stellar defensive work that continued in the second half.
Reuter led the way defensively with 15 rebound, five coming off offensive misses. Reuter added to her double-double with two blocked shots and four assists. Copeland finished off her double-double night with 13 rebounds, seven off the offensive boards. Halle Hughes added to the defensive stats, bringing down six rebounds for the Bearettes.
“We take a lot of pride in that; it’s not something that happens by accident,” Reuter said of the Bearettes’ stiff defense. “If you took a survey of our girls on whether we spend more time on offense or defense, I think you would get a majority vote for defense,” said Reuter.
“We’ve taken shooters out of their game. There is a trend here and it has something to do with our defense. It’s about matchups. We have a couple of girls that 90 percent of the teams in the state of Tennessee have a hard time matching up with. And we have the complementary pieces to go around them. We don’t do this if Chelsie Summars doesn’t play defense, or Mady Stallings or Halle Hughes or E.K. Brown, as well as the people coming off the bench.”
A run of seven points from Copeland and Brown, including Brown’s 3 midway through the third, proved to be the catalyst the coach was looking for from the Bearettes. Reuter put Bradley up by 14 with 1:41 to go in the third.
“I think it took the load off Rebecca and Brooke. Chelsie scored and E.K. scored and when you have balance, you have to pick your poison. They were certainly right after us defensively,” Reuter said of the seven-point run. “This is lose and go home. I don’t think any girl on either team left anything on the floor. That’s all you can ask. White County gave everything they had.”
From there, the Bearettes cruised to an 18 point lead in the fourth and led by 21 with just over a minute left before ending the night with the 52-33 win.
The Bearettes will take a short break today before Wednesday’s championship game against Cumberland. Reuter said the time will be spent preparing for another round of region tournament basketball
“We are going to try our best. We’ve got one day to get ready, and what a ride this is from Cleveland on a school bus,” said Reuter. “You’ve got to be able to play a lot of teams with a lot of different styles to win at tournament time.
BEARETTES 52, WARRIORETTES 33
White County 4 10 7 12 — 33
Bradley Central 11 6 18 17 — 52
White County (33) — Quillen 7, Howard 7, Taylor 6, Hudgins 6, Foster 6, Howard 2, Roberts 2, Johnson, Jones, Cash.
Bradley Central (52) — Brooke Copeland 19, Rebecca Reuter 16, Summars 6, K. Brown 5, Hughes 4, E.K. Brown 1, Davis, Gaither, Stallings, Delane.
3-point goals: White County 2 (Foster, Howard); Bradley Central 1 (E.K. Brown).
Records: White County 22-8; Bradley Central 24-5.