Facing an usual height disadvantage to a team that recently won its fifth straight National Association of Christian Athletes title, the Bearettes went toe-to-toe with the taller Hamilton Heights squad, winning the battle of the boards to help them claim a 58-39 victory at Jim Smiddy Arena.
“I’m proud of the way we executed. We stuck with our game plan,” declared Bradley head coach Jason Reuter. “It’s been seven years (2005) since we’ve won our own tournament. This is a great way to kick off our season.”
With three victories in as many days, the Bearettes will now prepare to open their District 5-AAA schedule Friday as arch-rival Cleveland High comes calling.
“We’ll enjoy this (the tournament title) tonight, but tomorrow we have to start preparing for Cleveland,” commented coach Reuter. “They are going to come in here ready to play and we better be ready as well.”
The Bearettes (3-0) are picked to three-peat as district champs this season with the Lady Raiders (2-1) expected to be their toughest competition.
With four players 6-foot-3 or taller, including a 6-foot-6 sophomore, Hamilton Heights (4-2) was intimidating to watch warm up and after getting a fast break basket off the opening tip, plus another after a steal 10 seconds later it appeared they weren’t in awe of the storied Bearettes.
However, those two quick baskets would be the only field goals the visitors would get in the game’s first 10 minutes, as Bradley scored the next dozen points. The Black-and-Gold advantage pushed to double digits 15 seconds into the second quarter when 6-foot-2 junior Brooke Copeland completed an old fashion three-point play.
After trailing by as much as 17 points midway through the second frame, the Lady Hawks were able to trim the deficit to nine points before Bradley netted six of the final eight first half points for a 36-23 halftime edge.
Hamilton Heights once again scored the first basket of the second half, but the Bearettes came roaring back with an 11-4 run.
The Lady Hawks were able to slice the difference from 18 to 13 points early in the final frame, but the tenacious Bradley defense was able to seal the crown by holding the visitors scoreless for the final four minutes of the contest.
“We played good defense. They (Hamilton Heights) are a very physical team, and I’m proud of the way we did a good job of staying out of foul trouble,” praised Reuter. “This was a good team win. A lot of people contributed. We have a very unselfish team. We know our roles.”
The 19-point victory gave the Bearettes a 63-point scoring advantage over their three tournament opponents, which included a 37-point mercy rule win over two-time state champion GPS. The Bruisers defeated Bradley by 20 points in last year’s tournament title game.
Copeland led Sunday’s victory with a game-high 21 points, including 10-of-11 free throws, nine rebounds and she took a pair of charges.
Rebecca Reuter, the other half of Bradley’s 6-foot-2 junior post duo, helped out with a dozen points, nine caroms and a pair of blocked shots.
Junior transfer point guard Whitney Donaldson continued her impressive Bearette debut with 10 points and five assists.
The trio were all-tournament selections with Copeland finishing with 58 points and 29 rebounds, Reuter garnering 38 markers and 26 boards, while Donaldson netted 25 points and dished out a dozen assists in the three-day event.
Senior wings Brandi Whitted and Kayla Withrow both hit long-range bombs in Sunday’s win while adding seven and five points to the winning total, with the latter also copping four steals.
Bradley won the rebounding battle with the taller Lady Hawks by a 30-24 margin, plus outshot them from the field 48 percent (19-of-40) to 31 percent (13-of-42). The Bearettes hit 77 percent (43-of-56) from the free throw line, including 17-for-22 Sunday.
The Bradley defense and foul trouble kept 6-foot-4 Western Kentucky commitment Ruta Savickaite (Lithuania) scoreless Sunday, but 6-foot-3 senior Teodora Zagorac (Serbia) led the international roster with 17 points, five caroms and a pair of blocks.
Ima-Obong Akpan (Nigeria), a 5-foot-7 senior, pumped in a dozen points plus cleared eight rebounds, while Jovana Stojanovic (Serbia) helped out with nine points. Zagorac, Akpan and Stojanovic were named the to the all-tournament team.
The Lady Hawks blocked a half dozen shots, with 6-foot-3 Gerda Paulauskaite (Lithuania) swatting a pair, while 6-foot-6 Ksenija Madzarevic (Serbia) saw limited playing time but cleared couple of rebounds.
The Lady Hawks were without highly sought after 5-foot-9 junior point guard Millica Savic (Serbia) who warmed up but was still visibly limping from a recent injury.
In other games Sunday, Alcoa (3-1) claimed third place with a 56-40 victory over East Hamilton (1-4).
All-tournament performers senior Katie Stubblefield and freshman Tara Shields led the Tornadoes with a dozen points apiece.
Maggie Woods paced the Lady Hurricanes with 12 points, while Lexi Zachery added 11. Senior Jessica Caudel and junior Juliette Harp were East Hamilton’s all-tourney selections.
GPS bounced back from its opening round loss to Bradley with back-to-back victories. The Bruisers (3-1) got past Bearden (2-2) 42-35 Sunday to earn fifth-place honors.
Long Island University commitment Brianna Farris led GPS with 15, while freshman point guard Akia Harris was named all-tournament.
Freshman Erin Walsh completed an all-tournament performance with 10 points to pace Bearden.
Oak Ridge picked up its first win fo the season in the seventh-place game, nipping winless Brainerd 57-54.
Kendra Holmes ripped the chords for 19 points to lead the Lady Wildcats, while all-tournament team member Whitney Mitchell was right behind with 18.
A trio of double figures scorers led Brainerd. Anisha Douglas found the nets for 19 points, while all-tournament performer freshman Jamee Ward added 14 and Chanelle Rogers a dozen.
CHAMPIONSHIP GAME SUMMARY
Hamilton Heights 6 17 10 6 — 39
Bradley Central 14 22 13 9 — 58
LADY HAWKS (39) — Teodaro Zagoric 17, Ima-Obong Akpan 12, Stojanovic 9, Paulauskaite 1, Savikaite, Kievisaite, Madzarevic, Nwosu,
BEARETTES (58) — Brooke Copeland 21, Rebecca Reuter 12, Whitney Donaldson 10, Whitted 7, Withrow 5, Davis 3, Carroll, Hill, Stallings, Delane, Pippenger.
3-POINTERS: Hamilton Heights 4 (Zagorac 2, Akpan, Stojanovic); Bradley 3 (Withrow, Copeland, Whitted).
FREE THROWS: Hamilton Heights 9-of-14; Bradley 17-of-22.
RECORDS: Hamilton Heights 4-2; Bradley 3-0.