EVENSVILLE — With no seniors on either team, the District 5-AAA championship game was a sign of good things to come for a pair of old rivals.
After suffering through just their second losing season in program history last year, Bradley Central completed its turnaround by claiming the district championship by a 43-35 score over archrival Cleveland Monday night at Rhea County High School.
With some “experienced” juniors and a pair of “Twin Tower” freshmen that top the 6-foot mark, the Bearettes have won 11 straight games and are 24-5 on the season. Bradley will host Cookeville (13-18), a team they’ve beaten twice this season, Thursday evening in the opening round of the Region 3-AAA Tournament.
“I’m really proud of the girls. We’ve had a great season but there is still a lot of basketball to go,” commented first-year Bearette head coach Jason Reuter after Monday’s victory. “It’s been a total team effort and we still have some unfinished business to take care of.”
With no upperclassmen on their roster, the Lady Raiders have come a long way from the start of the season and their 14-12 mark includes a stunning 48-40 upset of third-ranked and top-seeded Walker Valley in Saturday’s district semifinals.
“This team has improved throughout the season but right now we’re hurting,” commented veteran Cleveland coach Rachel Moore, whose team was seeded fourth in the tournament. “We wanted to win this game.”
The Lady Raiders will host White County (16-12) Thursday in the region opener at 7 p.m.
Walker Valley (24-2) bounced back from Saturday’s upset to claim a 51-31 victory over McMinn County in the consolation game Monday. The Lady Mustangs will open region play by traveling to District 6-AAA runner-up Warren County (16-16) Thursday evening for an 8 p.m. tipoff.
The Lady Cherokees (12-18) will venture to District 6-AAA champion Coffee County (18-10) for their region opener Thursday.
Lady Raiders 35
Just as it had done in Saturday’s upset victory, Cleveland came out strong holding a 10-6 advantage after three lead changes.
Bradley retook the lead when junior sharpshooter Kayla Beavers drilled three straight 3-pointers but Syndie Anderson pulled the Lady Raiders within one at the first buzzer by ending the frame the way she started the game with a trey of her own.
After Cleveland reclaimed the lead with the opening basket of the second period, the Bearettes went on a 9-2 run and were able to maintain that six-point lead until the intermission.
Undaunted, the Lady Raiders continued to fight in the second half and pulled even when Nora Berry closed the third with a 3-pointer and then opened the fourth with another.
Unfortunately for Cleveland that shot 20 seconds into the final frame would be as close as they would come as they went 1-for-17 from the field the rest of the way.
“We had a bad lapse in the fourth quarter and couldn’t capitalize on their mistakes,” remarked coach Moore after the Bearettes had eight turnovers in the final period.
Despite the miscues, Bradley made 4-of-8 shots in the period, including Beavers’ fourth 3-pointer of the night with 1:25 to go that essentially put the nail in the coffin.
“When Beavers put that shot up I was thinking no, we need to run time off the clock but when it went in I was yelling great shot,” related coach Reuter. “We were only up five at that point but that shot took the wind out of them.”
Bradley hit 17-of-41 shots from the field (41 percent) in the contest, while Cleveland struggled in making just 11-of-53 (20 percent). The Bearettes won the battle of the backboards by a 35-23 margin but turned the ball over 15 times compared to just nine for the Lady Raiders.
All-tournament performers Caroline Smith, Beavers and Brooke Copeland led the victory with a combined 34 points.
Smith and Beavers each netted a dozen while Copeland added 10 points, snatched a half dozen rebounds and blocked three shots. Smith also cleared four caroms and handed out a trio of assists.
Rebecca Retuer pulled down seven rebounds and Monica Hammond five, plus both blocked a shot for the victors.
The Lady Raiders were also led by a pair of all-tournament performers as Qetuwrah Abdullah-Muhammad and Berry finished with 13 and 11 points respectively.
Abdullah-Muhammad was also the chairman of the boards with 10 caroms for a double-double, plus she copped a pair of steals. Berry claimed four rebounds.
The contest marked the 10th time the two teams have met in championship games (district or region) in the past 12 seasons, with each winning five.
With a pair of victories during the regular season as well, this marks the first time Bradley has won three straight games over the Lady Raiders in the past decade.
Lady Mustangs 51, Lady Cherokees 31
Walker Valley left little doubt it was back to is old self by scoring the game’s first seven points and making five steals before McMinn County scored its first field goal at the 3:15 mark of the opening period.
Finished the first frame with seven steals, the Lady Mustangs led 13-7 at the first buzzer and 2-16 at the half.
Once again scoring the first seven points of a half, Walker Valley quickly pushed its lead to double digits after the intermission and continued to stretch it with an 27-15 second half run.
The Lady Mustangs hit half of their 28 two-point shots but were just 6-for-34 from long distance in the contest. McMinn shot just 28 percent (11-for-38) from the field and made just 2-of-12 free throws.
All-tournament selection Taylor Neuharth led the victory with 14 points, while 6-foot-1 senior Kayla Sewell, who was also named all-tournament, helped out with nine points, eight rebounds, four assists and four blocked shots.
Lee University signee Jordan Neuharth added nine points, five steals, five caroms and three assists to the Lady Mustang total.
“We played better defense today and did the little things well,” assessed first-year Walker Valley coach Jan Spangler. “We still need to be more patient on offense but we had a solid performance overall.”
Girls Championship Game
Cleveland 14 6 7 8 — 35
Bradley Central 15 11 4 13 — 43
Lady Raiders (35) — Nora Berry 11, Qetuwrah Abdullah-Muhammad 13, Anderson 6 , A. Abdullah-Muhammad 5, Capron, Langford, Perkins.
Bearettes (43) — Caroline Smith 12, Kayla Beavers 12, Brooke Copeland 10, Reuter 5, Withrow 4, McCracken, Hammond, Formont.
3-pointers: Cleveland 5 (Berry 3, Anderson 2); Bradley 4 (Beavers 4).
Free Throws: Cleveland 6-of-9; Bradley 5-of-10.
Records: Cleveland 14-12; Bradley Central 24-5.
McMinn County 7 9 5 10 — 31
Walker Valley 13 11 11 16 — 51
Lady Cherokees (31) — Brown 9, Shick 6, Ward 3, C. Smith 3, Derrick 1, Murillo 5, K. Smith 4, Burke.
Lady Mustangs (51) — Taylor Neuharth 14, Sewell 9, J. Neuharth 9, Terpstra 7, Allen 5, Stepp 5, Sotuyo 2, Macon, Thompson, Liner, Black.
3-point goals: McMinn 3 (Brown 3); Walker Valley 6 (T. Neuharth 2, Terpstra, Stepp, Allen, J. Neuharth).
Free Throws: McMinn 2-of-11; Walker Valley 5-of-5.
Records: McMinn County 12-18; Walker Valley 24-2.
Bradley Central — Kayla Beavers, Caroline Smith, Brooke Copeland; Cleveland — Syndie Anderson, Qetuwrah Abdullah-Muhammad, Nora Berry; Walker Valley — Kayla Sewell, Taylor Neuharth; McMinn — Haley Ward, Hannah Brown; Rhea County — Alex Hughey; Ooltewah — Michelle Badley; Soddy-Daisy — Kelsey Nunley.
All District 5-AAA
Walker Valley — Jordan Neuharth (MVP), Kayla Sewell, Laurel Allen; Bradley Central — Kayla Beavers, Caroline Smith, Brooke Copeland; McMinn — Hannah Brown, Haley Ward; Cleveland — Qetuwrah Abdullah-Muhammad, Nora Berry; Rhea — Mary Hickey, Alex Hughey; Soddy-Daisy — Kelsey Nunley; Ooltewah — Kierra Delaney.