For the second straight year coach Kent Smith’s Black-and-Gold squad will battle Ooltewah for the region title.
Last season, the Owls nipped Bradley 60-58 in Cumberland County’s gym and went on to earn a spot in the TSSAA state tournament, falling in the opening round to eventual state runner-up Memphis Central.
Tonight at the Raider Dome, the Bears will take on coach Jesse Nayadley’s squad for the third time this season; Ooltewah has won both of their previous meetings.
The Owls claimed an early season 57-51 victory in their own “Barn” as part of a nine-game winning streak, and then claimed a 44-30 win over a disheartened Bear crew in the final game of the regular season.
Ooltewah (19-9) won the District 5-AAA regular season title with a 10-2 league mark, but like Bradley (18-12) in the last week of the season as well as the district championship game, were upset by Walker Valley in the tournament.
After a third-place finish in the district tournament, the Owls went on the road to knock off White County 76-67 in the region opener and then got some revenge on a weakened Mustang squad 69-57 in the semifinals.
Winners of four of their last five games, the Bears’ only postseason loss also came to Walker Valley in the 5-AAA title game, but they have bounced back with victories over Cookeville (66-56) and archrival Cleveland (63-55) in region play.
While Ooltewah is one of the very few teams coach Smith has an overall losing record (10-13) against, the 17-year bench veteran is 7-3 in postseason battles with the Owls.
In his six years at Ooltewah, coach Nayadley is 9-5 against Bradley, including 3-1 in tournament play. Both coaches have won better than 70 percent of their games at their respective schools. Smith is the winningest coach in Bear history at 426-144 (74.7 percent), while Nayadley is 114-45 (71.7 percent) since taking over the Owls.
“We are very familiar with each other, so there’ll be no secrets,” declared Smith earlier this week. “It’s just a matter of who executes better, is hitting their shots and doesn’t turn the ball over.”
Regardless of tonight’s outcome, both teams will once again be playing in TSSAA Sectional games on Monday.
The winner will get to host either top-ranked Blackman (28-0), which brought Bradley’s season to a close on a very controversial technical foul call last March, or sixth-ranked Siegel (27-4).
This evening’s losing team will have to travel to Murfreesboro Monday to face whichever team wins tonight’s Region 4-AAA final.
Blackman has handed Siegel three of its four losses this season by a combined 69 points. The Stars’ other loss came by 10 points to Independence.
Tonight’s Region 3-AAA title tilt will tip off at 7 in the Raider Dome.
Local sports historian and radio announcer Gary Ownbey contributed to this story.