Facing the second-ranked team in the state is tough enough at full strength, but to do it without a starter who has averaged a double-double this season will be the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest — it can be done, but it will take extraordinary effort.
Although Bradley Central is ranked third in the same state poll, the Bearettes will be without NCAA Division I prospect Rebecca Reuter as the TSSAA enforces a two-game suspension on her for having been ejected from Saturday night’s Sectional Game.
“It’s a shame for any kid to have to miss playing in a state tournament, but especially in this situation,” commented Bearette head coach Jason Reuter, who is also Rebecca’s father. “Looking at the game film, I just don’t see where the situation constituted a technical foul. I’m not defending her because she’s my daughter. I’d do the same no matter which of my players it would have been.”
The younger Reuter, who had never had a technical foul called on her in her career before the fourth period Saturday, got two “Ts” in a 4 1/2-minute span.
The first came a minute into the final frame with Bradley up by 12 points on fourth-ranked Blackman. Reuter and a pair of Lady Blaze players were going for a rebound and the 6-foot-2 Bearette post was whistled for an over the back foul by the outside referee. As the players came down, the Blackman player’s momentum took her to the floor as Reuter was backing away and the underneath referee whistled her for a technical foul.
The second came with 2:29 left when once again Reuter went up for a rebound and when she turned to go up court, a Blaze player stepped in to try to steal the ball and in the collision went to the ground. Although being down 13 points and Blackman having already starting to intentionally foul to try to get back in the contest, the underneath referee whistled Reuter for a charge. When she realized the foul was called on her and she had fouled out, Reuter slammed the ball to the ground and the outside referee, gave her a second technical, essentially ejecting her from the game. The same referee whistled her for both technicals.
“Even though I felt like the Blackman girl fouled her, I understand the second technical because she shouldn’t have slammed the ball down,” commented coach Reuter. “But I didn’t understand the first technical because she didn’t appear to do anything malicious on the play. The girl fell, but from the replays it doesn’t show that Becca did anything to cause it.”
Regardless the “judgment calls” were made and according to the TSSAA the additional penalty of the two-game suspension will be applied. Reuter will sit out the first two games of the state tournament, should the Bearettes advance, and would be eligible to play in the state championship game on Saturday. If Bradley falls to Science Hill Wednesday, she will have to sit out the first game of next season as well.
“Obviously her not playing takes away part of what we are normally able to do, but that’s why you practice and train,” the coach commented. “The other girls will have to step it up and Baylee (Carroll, a 5-foot-8 senior post/wing) will get the start.”
While Reuter has averaged 11 points and 10 rebounds a game this season, Carroll has netted four points and snagged four rebounds an outing as the team’s “sixth man.”
With one half of the “Twin Tower” tandem missing, added pressure will on the shoulders of District 5-AAA Player of the Year Brooke Copeland, also a 6-foot-2 post with several NCAA Division I schools wooing her.
Copeland has also averaged a double-double, pumping 19 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, plus blocked a pair of shots per game. She is shooting 50 percent from inside the arc and has hit better than 72 percent of more than 200 foul shots this season.
The Bearettes’ powerful inside game has been complemented this season with good outside play from senior wings Kayla Withrow and Brandi Whitted, plus junior point guard Whitney Donaldson.
Along with hitting 5-of-6 3-pointers on her way to 18 points in the region title game, Withrow posted a career-high 26 points, including a half dozen treys, in the region opener. Hitting at a 38 percent clip, she has made more than 55 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 Donaldson has steadily improved as she has gotten used to the Bearette style of play. The 5-foot-4 fireball, who transfered in last summer from Morristown, is netting nine points a game, plus dishing out 4.5 assists and swiping a pair of steals on average.
Bradley is 29-2 going into the state tournament and has yet to lose to a Tennessee team this season.
Boasting a 33-3 record this season, Science Hill’s only in-state loss came to top-ranked and unbeaten Riverdale, the same team that beat them in the TSSAA state championship game last season.
The Lady Hilltoppers had no seniors while winning their first 38 games last season before their lone loss in the state final. Many of the current players were also present when they went 33-4 and made the state Final Four two seasons ago.
With all five starters having surpassed the 1,000-point career scoring mark, the girls from Johnson City are led by Middle Tennessee State signee Shy Copney, a 5-foot-9 senior wing.
“She can do everything — shoots well off the catch and off the dribble, handles the ball well, posts up smaller players and goes around bigger ones,” according to a scouting report. Copney averages 10 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
Six-foot junior post Gabby Lyon (12.5 ppg, 6 rpg) is the only Lady Topper listed above 5-foot-10 and is a strong “shot blocker and offensive rebounder.”
Junior point guard Tianna Tarter is a penetrator who “likes to create shots for everyone else,” but “will shoot and make the 3s.” She’s the tema’s leading scorer at 14.5 ppg, plus she dishes five assists and cops 2.5 steals a game.
Senior Morgan Knack (9.5 ppg), a 5-foot-9 shooting guard, is the team’s top 3-point shooter and is being courted by some NCAA Division II schools. Senior power forward Enjelica Reid (9.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg) has Kent State talking to her, while senior “sixth man” Shae Smith also has some colleges looking at her.
Sophomore Keisha Gregory, the daughter of East Tennessee State coach Karen Kemp, is the first guard off the bench but is coming back from an ankle injury that kept her sidelined for four games.
“Science Hill is a very good team that will pick us up in a full court press until we can prove we can break it,” expressed coach Reuter. “If we show we can handle their pressure, they’ll back off and play a half-court defense.”
The Bradley Central student body sent the Bearettes off this afternoon as they travel to Murfreesboro to get settled in their motel rooms and then will go to Belmont University in Nashville for a practice in a larger arena than they normally play in.
“Playing in a college arena is an adjustment, so we thought this would be a good way to try to adjust,” related coach Reuter. Game time is at 2 Wednesday afternoon at Middle Tennessee State’s Murphy Arena.