The Bradley Central Bearettes are tough. With one of their NCAA Division I signee “Twin Towers” on the bench, the Black-and-Gold rallied from a seven-point deficit with four minutes to go in regulation to force overtime, and then defeated the state’s highest-scoring team 76-72 to do something the program hadn’t done since the days of its own storied coach Jim Smiddy — win a fourth straight Region 3-AAA championship.
“I bet Coach Smiddy is looking down and having a big ole time,” proclaimed current Bradley head coach Jason Reuter after stunning the District 6-AAA champion Cumberland County squad. “When we were down seven with four minutes to go and Rebecca (Reuter, a 6-foot-3 post player) on the bench, the house money was on Cumberland, but our girls refused to lose.
“With all the adversity we’ve had to go through over the last three years when it came to tournament play, it would have been easy to just say, ‘Oh no, here way go again,’ but we didn’t,” he added. “Our girls stepped up the challenge. Each one that took the floor was key to our winning tonight.”
Like it has the last three seasons, the region championship victory once again allows the 25-5 Bearettes to host a TSSAA Sectional Game Saturday evening, when ninth-ranked Murfreesboro Oakland visits Jim Smiddy Arena. The Lady Patriots are 26-6 on the season, with four of their losses, including Wednesday’s 41-33 contest for the Region 4-AAA title, coming to Blackman, the No. 1-ranked high school team in the nation. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
Cumberland County (28-5) must travel to Murfreesboro to face the 30-1 Lady Blaze in Saturday’s substate round. The winners advance to the TSSAA Girls State Championship, beginning Wednesday at Middle Tennessee State University.
The last time Bradley and Cumberland met, the Bearettes gave the Lady Jets a 40-point thumping, but lost then District Player of the Year Caroline Smith when a Cumberland elbow sent her crashing to the floor with a concussion.
The same physicality was evident from the beginning Wednesday evening, as several players hit the hardwood without whistles being blown. The teams traded the lead nine times before the score stood even after the first 34 points were put on the scoreboard. The younger Reuter wrapped up the opening frame with a basket from the lane with four ticks to go to give the Bearettes a 19-17 lead at the horn.
Bradley stretched its advantage by scoring the first four points of the second period, but the Lady Jets, who averaged 75 points a game this season, came soaring back to briefly regain the lead with a 9-2 run.
Bearette junior point guard Chelsie Summars dropped in a pair of free throws to spark an 8-0 streak, giving Bradley its largest lead of the game at seven points when Florida signee Brooke Copeland hit one of her patented turnaround jumpers with two minutes left in the half.
Cumberland broke a better than three-minute scoreless span with a free throw and a jumper to close the gap to four, but Copeland, who has won the District Player of the Year the last two seasons, hit another close-range shot just before the halftime horn to let the Bearettes carry a 35-29 edge into the locker rooms.
The second half started like the first, with the teams evenly splitting the first 18 points, before the Lady Jets, did what they do best in creating turnovers and turning them into points with a 10-0 streak into the lead.
Reuter snapped the run with a fast-break basket with less than a minute left to make it a 51-46 difference at the end fo the frame.
Cumberland pushed back up by seven at the 4:13 mark of the fourth period, when Reuter was whistled for her fifth foul. Bradley immediately came back downcourt and went to Copeland who picked up a “hoop-and-some-harm” on a drive to the hole.
Coach Reuter called a quick timeout, during which Copeland told the younger players to “give us your all and we’ll win this game,” she related. “With the way their crowd was acting when Rebecca fouled out, it just pumped us up. That kind of stuff (yelling and screaming from opposing fans), just motivates us.”
The Bearettes returned to the court rejuvenated and determined the final outcome had yet to be determined.
After creating a turnover, senior Lyndsy Davis was fouled on a drive and drilled both free throws. After Cumberland answered with a pair of charity tosses of its own, Bearette freshmen Halle Hughes got loose on a fast break basket and then a Lady Jet turnover, classmate Emma Kate Brown made a baseline drive to even the game at 63-all with 2:50 remaining.
The final nearly three minutes of regulation saw just four points scored — a pair of free throws by Cumberland’s Gina Dick with 2:21 on the clock and two foul shots by Copeland with 46.7 ticks remaining.
The Lady Jets did get off a couple of final-shot efforts just before the buzzer but neither fell through the net, meaning a four-minute extra period would be played.
Like during regulation, the teams battled evenly for the first 3 1/2 minutes, but then with 26.1 on the clock Copeland drove the lane and when the defense collapsed on her, she dished the ball to Brown, who put the Bearettes up by two.
After another Lady Jet turnover, Bradley came back downcourt and got the ball to Brown again, who was fouled while putting up a shot and cooly stepped to the line and sank both free throws with 11.3 showing on the clock for the game’s final points.
“She’s got ice water in her veins,” declared Coach Reuter as the freshman posted 19 points, on 8-of-11 shooting from the field in the championship game, plus being named to the All-Region team. “She’s a coach’s kid (Lee University Tommy Brown), so she knows how to handle pressure.”
“We play for each other. I’m so proud of our girls,” Brown remarked after the contest. “I told Brooke (Copeland, during the timeout after Reuter fouled out), I’ve got your back. I’ll be there.”
“EK and Halle (Hughes) really stepped up and made big plays that helped us win and Lyndsy (Davis) came on an did an amazing job,” praised Copeland, the senior who was a McDonald’s All-American nominee this season.
Earning Region MVP honors, Copeland led the victory with not only her usual double-double with 26 points and 14 rebounds, but added five assists as a well. She also drained 12-of-16 free throws.
Before having her game shortened, Reuter, an All-Region selection, collect a dozen points, seven caroms, three blocked shots and a couple of assists.
Hughes came off the bench to net nine points, on 3-of-5 shooting from the field, grabbed a half dozen ricochets and dished off a pair of helps, while Davis went 4-for-4 at the foul line, plus added a driving basket, all in the fourth quarter.
As a team, the Bearettes hit 56 percent (23-of-41) from the two-point area, but made just 1-of-6 “from distance.” Bradley 27-of-33 free throws (82 percent) and won the rebounding battle by a 31-23 margin.
Cumberland was led by Dick’s 28 points, including three “treys,” while season leading-scoring Mackenzie Iles was held to just five first half points before finishing with 14. Destiny Carlton pitched in a dozen points.
The Lady Jets made 18-of-37 (44 percent) from in front of the arc and an amazing 67 percent (8-for-12) from beyond it, but struggled at the foul line, sinking just 14-of-24 attempts.
Region 3-AAA Girls Championship Game
Bradley Central 19 16 11 19 11 — 76
Cumberland County 17 12 22 14 7 — 72
BEARETTES (76) — Brooke Copeland 26, Emma Kate Brown 19, Rebecca Reuter 12, Halle Hughes 9, Lyndsy Davis 6, Chelsie Summars 4, Katie Brown, Mady Stallings.
LADY JETS (72) — Gina Dick 28, Mackenzie Iles 14, Destiny Carlton 12, Teeple 9, Smith 6, Lee 4, Hyder 1, Eldridge.
3-POINTERS: Bradley 1 (EK Brown); Cumberland 8 (Dick 3, Iles 2, Carlton 2, Teeple).
FREE THROWS: Bradley 27-of-33; Cumberland 14-of-24.
RECORDS: Bradley 25-5; Cumberland 28-5.