There’s no question the Bradley Central Bearettes have returned to their former glory the past three seasons, but one thing is missing — a TSSAA state tournament berth.
Despite an 86-10 record since 6-foot-8 Jason Reuter took over as head coach and 6-foot-2 “Twin Towers” Brooke Copeland and Reuter’s daughter Rebecca joined the storied program, they have come up one win shy of making the last two state tournament fields.
“We’ve been right on the cusp,” declared the elder Reuter. “We’ve played well during the regular seasons and in the district and region tournaments, but we’ve had a little bad luck in the substate.”
Playing without District Player of the Year Caroline Smith who had suffered a concussion in the region final against Cumberland County two days before, Bradley finished at 32-2 after falling 44-43 in overtime to Lawrence County in last year’s sectional game.
In 2011, a senior-less Bearette squad went 27-6 but ran into a senior-laden Blackman squad which snapped a 14-game Bradley winning streak with a 44-27 drumming.
The Bearettes (28-2), ranked third in the final Associated Press poll of the season, will get a chance to rectify that situation Saturday evening, but face another tall hurdle as nationally ranked Blackman (26-4) comes to “The Jim” (Jim Smiddy Arena) for a 7 p.m. tipoff.
“They were ranked right behind us (fourth) in the final state poll, but they are ranked in the Top 50 in the national poll,” related coach Reuter. “Their only losses this season have come to defending state champion Riverdale.”
After defeating Blackman for the fourth time this season, Riverdale (31-0), the top-ranked team in the state and No. 2 in the MaxPreps national poll, will host White County (21-12) in a Sectional game Saturday as well.
Along with the Bradley-Blackman pairing, the only other substate game to feature a matchup of state-ranked teams is No. 6 Farragut (28-4) visiting second-ranked Science Hill (32-3).
Other sectional games include; Tennessee High (26-6) at Bearden (24-7); Antioch (25-6) at Hendersonville Beech (25-8); Mount Juliet (24-9) at Brentwood (20-11); Memphis Central (26-3) at Munford (27-5) and Jackson North Side (13-19) at ninth-ranked Memphis Overton (28-6).
The TSSAA state tournament draw will be held Sunday in Murfreesboro with games set to begin Wednesday morning at Middle Tennessee State University’s Murphy Center. This year the Class AAA games will be played in the morning and afternoon Wednesday, with the semifinals to tip off Friday morning and the state title game to open the final day, March 9.
While Bradley has relied heavily on its inside game with the pair of NCAA Division I post prospects patrolling the paint, it has been their guard play in the postseason that has helped the Bearettes post “three-peat” district and region championships.
“Everybody knows what Brooke (Copeland) and Rebecca (Reuter) can do inside, but our guards (senior wings Kayla Withrow and Brandi Whitted, plus junior point guard Whitney Donaldson) have taken some of the pressure off them with the way they have played lately,” coach Reuter related.
Copeland, this year’s District 5-AAA Player of the Year, and Reuter have both averaged a double-double and more than two blocks per game this season, just part of the reason college scouts and coaches are drooling over the prospect of having them join their teams.
Pouring in 19 points and grabbing 10 rebounds a game, Copeland is shooting 50 percent from inside the arc and has hit better than 72 percent of more than 200 foul shots this season.
Reuter has netted 11 points and snatched 10 caroms an outing, plus is hitting 52 percent of her inside shots and is also a 72 percent free-throw shooter.
The pair combined to match White County’s total in the Region 3-AAA championship game Wednesday with 42 points, while also clearing the glass for 24 rebounds and blocking a five shots.
Donaldson, who moved in from Morristown during the last offseason, has steadily improved as she has gotten used to the Bearette style of play. The 5-foot-4 fireball is netting nine points a game, plus dishing out 4.5 assists and swiping a pair of steals on average.
Withrow posted a career-high 26 points, including a half dozen 3-pointers, in the region opener against Cumberland County a week ago. Hitting at a 38 percent clip, she has made more than 50 shots from beyond the arc while averaging eight points, three assists and two steals a game.
Whitted is contributing five points, three assists and three rebounds a night, while senior Baylee Carroll is adding an average of four points and four rebounds as the team’s “sixth man.”
“Brooke and Rebecca have been playing varsity together for three years now and know each other pretty well,” coach Reuter explained. “The other girls are starting for the first time for us this year and it has taken time for everybody to get used to each other, but we’ve got a whole season under our belts together now.”
Bradley graduated six seniors off of last year’s substate squad, including five who are playing on the collegiate level now.
Blackman comes to town tomorrow with a very impressive squad once again.
“I’ve only gotten to see some film on them for a brief time this afternoon (Thursday), but they are ranked for a reason,” coach Reuter commented. “They are very fast and very long. Their defense is their offense, in that they get the majority of their points off of the turnovers their trap/pressure creates.
“They have a freshman point guard named Dangerfield that is one of the quickest girls I’ve seen. She is their leading scorer at 14.6 (ppg). They have a 6-foot sophomore that averages 13.5, plus a 5-foot-11 junior named Norris that has arms like she’s 6-foot-4. She has more than 100 steals this year and averages 8.5 points.
“In the paint they have a 6-foot-3 freshman post that gives them 8.7 (ppg) and a 6-foot-4 sophomore, plus a 6-foot-2 girl that comes off the bench,” he added. “Our size isn’t going to affect them the way it has most of the teams we faced this year.
“We are going to have to come out and show them early that we can handle their pressure,” the coach continued. “They bring the kind of pressure we saw against Wesleyan in Atlanta (one of the Bearettes’ two losses this season). We came back from that game and changed some things that have helped us.
“We can’t play timid against them,” coach Reuter concluded. “Our guards have been playing great and they have to continue to take the open shots. Our big girls need to take it to them underneath and go to the basket strong and draw some fouls as well.
“This is the reason we went and played in that tough tournament in South Carolina and went to Atlanta, to get ready for this type of competition.”
Bradley’s only losses this season have come to a North Carolina state champion and a five-time Georgia state champ.