DAYTON — Gathering a block from the historic “Scopes Monkey Trial” courthouse Friday, the District 5-AAA basketball coaches finalized plans for the upcoming district tournament.
Incorporating a new twist this year, the annual event’s opening round games will be held at multiple sites before the semifinals and championship games will converge on Rhea County High School.
Playing on the home court of the higher seeds, the three girls’ opening round games will be held Wednesday evening, while the boys will do the same Thursday. All opening round games tip off at 7 p.m.
“The coaches felt like this was a way to emphasize the regular season results and reward the teams that finished higher,” Bradley Central athletic director Turner Jackson explained. “Other districts around the state have been doing the same. Since we recently went from a five-team district to seven teams we thought this would be a good thing to try.”
The change is also expected to have a financial benefit with fans being able to make a shorter trip to see their favorite team play a post-season contest.
“We’ve done the same thing in region tournaments for several years and it has worked well so it should do the same for the district tournament,” Jackson added.
Friday’s meeting confirmed that for the second straight year the Walker Valley girls and Cleveland High boys as the tournament’s top seeds.
After making the state tournament field last season and being ranked third in the latest Associated Press poll, the Lady Mustangs went unbeaten (12-0) in district play this season while compiling a 24-1 record.
First-year coach Jan Spangler has her senior-laden “fillies” riding a 16-game winning streak heading into the post season, with the team’s only loss coming to top-ranked (Division II) Girls Preparatory School, back before Christmas.
Coach Jason McCowan’s Rowdy Raiders are 16-7 on the year and 9-3 in district play after sweeping two games against Ooltewah in seven days this past week.
By winning the regular season titles, the Lady Mustangs and Raiders earned an opening round bye in the district tournament and will not take the court until Saturday’s semifinals. They also automatically advance to the Region 3-AAA Tournament.
The three girls’ games to open the post-season Wednesday evening include second-seeded Bradley Central playing host to No. 7 Ooltewah (6-19, 1-11), fourth-seeded Cleveland entertaining Rhea County (10-14, 4-8), the fifth seed, plus No. 3 McMinn County (10-14, 7-5) welcoming sixth-seeded Soddy-Daisy (9-15, 2-10).
Despite having no seniors on the squad, the Bearettes are 21-5 this season and 10-2 in district play in head coach Jason Reuter’s first year at the helm. Bradley’s losses this season have all come to state-ranked teams — twice to Walker Valley, twice to second-ranked (AA) McMinn Central and once to No. 8 (AAA) Wilson Central.
Devoid of any upperclassmen (seniors or juniors), the young Lady Raiders of veteran coach Rachel Moore has improved throughout the season and finished with a 12-11 overall and 6-6 district record.
Pushing Walker Valley in a three-point contest back on Feb. 1, Cleveland has defeated the Lady Eagles twice this season — once by 10 points and the other time by three.
The Cleveland-Rhea winner will have to face Walker Valley Saturday at 2 p.m. in the semifinals. The other girls’ semifinal will tip of at 3:30.
In what 15-year veteran Bradley Central boys’ coach Kent Smith called the “tightest district regular season I can remember,” his Bears, Cleveland and Ooltewah all posted 9-3 5-AAA marks, while McMinn County was right on their heels at 8-4.
When the tie-breaker criteria was applied the Raiders got the top nod, due to their two wins over Ooltewah, while Bradley took the No. 2 seed and the Owls third.
Bradley wrapped up its 19-6 regular season with a one-point victory in Cookeville Friday evening and will play host to seventh-seeded Soddy-Daisy (3-21, 1-11) in Thursday night’s district opener.
While the Bears blasted the Trojans by 40 points when the two teams met in Jim Smiddy Arena in January, Soddy gave the Black-and-Gold all it could handle before falling 65-60 in their meeting earlier this week.
Bradley has won six straight games, and 10 of their last 11, heading into the “win or go home” elimination game.
Facing a similar “do or die” situation, Coach Bob Williams’ Walker Valley squad has a tough “row to hoe” as they gallop down Interstate 75 to “The Barn” at Ooltewah. The Mustangs are just 5-21 this season and their 2-10 5-AAA mark puts them in the No. 6 seed.
Third-seeded Ooltewah, which was district and region runner-up to Cleveland last season before playing in the TSSAA sub-state round, is 20-7 on the year, including a 27- and 11-point wins over the Mustangs.
The final opening round game will be played in Athens with McMinn County (16-9, 8-4) hosting fifth-seeded Rhea County (9-15, 4-8). The Cherokees claimed just a two-point victory the last time the two teams met.
The 5-AAA boys’ semifinals will be held Saturday with Cleveland taking on the McMinn/Rhea survivor at 5 p.m. while the Bradley/Soddy and Ooltewah/Walker Valley winners will square off at 6:30 in Evensville.
The girls’ consolation and championship games will be held Feb. 21, while the boys’ will battle for their final district spots on Feb. 22. The Region 3-AAA Tournament is slated to begin Feb. 24.
n The District 5-AA Tournament will get under way Thursday evening with the “play-in” games between the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds at McMinn Central High School.
In the 7:30 boys’ game, Polk County (10-17, 1-7) will battle Meigs County (10-17, 2-6), while the girls’ pairing wasn’t determined by presstime Saturday. Sequoyah (10-14, 3-4) and Sweetwater (7-15, 1-6) were schedule to wrap up their regular seasons, with the outcome having an effect on the district seeding.
The Polk and Meigs boys split their games this season with Coach Rusty Brewer’s Wildcats winning by 12 points in Benton but the Tigers prevailing by four in Decatur. The winner will advance to the district semifinals Friday evening at McMinn County High School in Athens.
The McMinn Central (24-1, 8-0) girls and Sequoyah (22-3, 7-0) boys at the tournament’s top seeds and will square off against the Thursday night winners in the semis.
At 18-8 and 4-4 in district play, Polk County has the second-seeded girls’ team. The Wildkittens will battle either Meigs County (13-14, 3-5) or Sequoyah in Friday’s other semifinals.
Sweetwater (14-9, 5-2) and McMinn Central (12-11, 4-4) are the second and third seeds in the boys bracket and will tangle in the semis as well.
The 5-AA girls’ consolation and championship will be held Feb. 21, while the boys will determine their final order the following night.
After playing the opening round at the home of the higher seeds, the Region 3-AA Tournament will be held at McMinn County High School as well.