After trailing the entire fourth period and down a point with 12.6 seconds, 6-foot-2 Florida signee Brooke Copeland and 6-foot-3 Rebecca Reuter, who is headed to play for Middle Tennessee State, teamed up to improvise the most important basket of their careers.
Copeland pulled down her 10th rebound of the night off of a missed Oakland free throw, dribbled the length on the court and fired a pass to Reuter in the paint, who banked in the winning shot over a pair of Lady Patriot defenders, including 6-foot-2 Shelby Gibson.
“That play is a product of those two girls having played so much together, they know where each other is going to be and that they can count on one another,” declared a jubilant Coach Jason Reuter after the 37-36 victory in the TSSAA Sectional Game at Jim Smiddy Arena.
“It being me and Brooke at the end is very fitting,” declared senior Rebecca Reuter. “When I saw the pass coming to me, I just concentrated on finishing the shot.”
“We had this same situation two years ago against Lawrence County and we didn’t make the shot. I’m glad we got a chance to redeem ourselves,” remarked Copeland. “We (the Bearettes) have a will to win. We (her and Reuter) told the other girls coming out of the timeout (just before the game-winning play), we will win this.”
The 114th victory of their four-year careers, sends Bradley to the TSSAA state tournament for the second straight year, which began on Wednesday with all four Class AAA quarterfinals. The tournament draw will be held this afternoon, with Blackman (31-1), which is ranked No. 1 in the state and nation, third-ranked Mt. Juliet (29-1), No. 4 Morristown-West (30-3), seventh-ranked Memphis Ridgeway (26-3), Rossview (27-3), Houston (22-7) and Jefferson County (22-11) joining the Bearettes (26-5) in the Final 8.
With ninth-ranked Oakland (26-7) having lost to Blackman by just seven points Wednesday in the Region 4-AAA championship game, Coach Reuter knew the Black-and-Gold would face a stiff challenge from the Murfreesboro squad.
“Oakland is a very tough team and I knew we’d have to give it all we had to be able to beat them,” he said Saturday evening. “I felt confident in our girls, but because of what’s happened to us in the past, knew anything could happen.”
The visitors scored the first points of the substate contest and led 8-4 a few moments later when Copeland hit her first shot of the game, and then added a pair of free throws to even the score. The Lady Patriots were able to get the final bucket of the period for a 10-8 edge at the horn.
With the score standing at 13-10 midway through the second frame, Reuter drilled a 3-pointer from the wing to knot the tally, Lipscomb signee Emily Eubanks made a shot from the lane a minute later to put Oakland back on top.
Freshman Emma Kate Brown answered on the next trip down the court with the first of her two 3-pointers on the night, and then Copeland put in a shot from the wing to give the hosts an 18-15 halftime advantage.
After the intermission, the two teams continued their tooth-and-nail battle with the lead changing hands three times and the score being tied four during the third period, including 28-all when the buzzer sounded.
The Lady Patriots, who had won the last time they were in Smiddy Arena for a 2001 Sectional game, jumped out quickly with Eubanks hitting a jumper from the lane and her sophomore younger sister, Ansley, drilling a long-range bomb for a five-point lead 100 seconds into the final frame.
Brown once again had an immediate answer with her second 3-pointer. After an Oakland free throw, Reuter hit a nice spinning left-handed shot from the lane with 4:15 to go to close the gap to a single point.
The Lady Patriots, who didn’t make a field goal in the final 6 1/2 minutes of the contest, netted their final points at the free throw line with 3:36 on the clock, and then went into a stall game.
After missing a trio of shots from the field, Bradley narrowed the gap to one once again when Copeland dropped in a pair of charity tosses with 13.7 seconds remaining.
After a timeout and a purposeful foul on the inbound play, Bradley got what it wanted when the visitors missed the 13th free throw in 17 tries on the night and Copeland cleared the rebound and Reuter met her at the other end of the court for the game-winner.
“We had a play called in case she made both of those free throws right there, but when she missed, Brooke and Becca just did what they’ve done so many times before,” Coach Reuter related. “Coming on the heels of what’s happened the last two years, it finally seems like the basketball gods are smiling on us.”
Copeland finished with a double-double with 14 points and 10 boards, plus she copped three steals, blocked a pair of shots and had two assists.
Brown netted a dozen points on 6-for-6 at the free throw line and hitting 2-of-3 long-range attempts.
The younger Reuter netted nine points, on 4-of-5 shooting from the field, cleared eight caroms, plus blocked four shots.
Junior point guard Chelsie Summars helped out with a trio of thefts, a couple of helps and two rebounds.
Bradley made just 11-of-33 shots from the field, but went 12-for-15 at the foul line.
Oakland did something that is rarely done by out rebounding the hosts 30-23, plus Emily Eubanks tied Copeland for game-high points with 14, while Gibson finished with nine.
The Lady Patriots connected on 15-of-42 shots from the floor, but went 4-for-17 at the free throw line.
“There’s no doubt if they (Oakland) make their free throws, the game has a different outcome,” Coach Reuter remarked. “But the fact of the matter is we are the ones still dancing and moving on.”
TSSAA Girls Sectional Game
Oakland 10 5 13 8 — 36
Bradley Central 8 10 10 9 — 37
LADY PATRIOTS (36) — Emily Eubanks 14, Shelby Gibson 9, Kiarra Howse 6, Ansley Eubanks 3, Kaitlyn Oliver 2, Patterson 2, Eaglen.
BEARETTES (37) — Brooke Copeland 14, Emma Kate Brown 12, Rebecca Reuter 9, Halle Hughes 2, Lyndsy Davis, Chelsie Summars, Mady Stallings.
3-POINTERS: Oakland 2 (E. Eubanks, A. Eubanks); Bradley 3 (EK Brown 2, Reuter).
FREE THROWS: Oakland 4-of-17; Bradley 12-of-15.
RECORDS: Oakland 26-7; Bradley 26-5.