Winners of five straight National Association of Christian Athletes championships, the Lady Hawks rallied from a double-digit halftime to take the lead in the final 40 seconds before the Bearettes sank four free throws to prevent what would have been the first back-to-back losses in Coach Jason Reuter’s tenure.
“A win is a win,” declared Coach Reuter after the narrow 51-48 escape. “We may have had a little Riverdale hangover [a seven-point loss to the nationally-ranked two-time state champions]. We had way too many unforced errors [20 turnovers] and stood around too much. This performance leaves a bad taste in our mouths.”
In the boys’ matchup, the Hawks, who are also NACA national champs, had just one starter under 6-foot-3, while none of the Bears reached that mark. With a front line that went 6-11, 6-8, 6-6 and a 6-3 point guard that has signed with Tennessee Tech, Hamilton Heights had a 15-point lead midway through the final frame, but Bradley was able to cut the deficit to just four points with 38 seconds remaining, but that was as close as the home team would come.
“We dug ourselves a hole and almost climbed out of it there in the fourth quarter but couldn’t quite get all the way out,” remarked Bear head coach Chuck Clark after the 72-64 finale. “They’re [HH] some big boys, but we didn’t quit. We’ve got that Bradley DNA, and we fought back.”
The Bears (1-2) will get another chance to chop down the tall trees as they face the unbeaten Hawks (4-0) again Tuesday at 5 p.m. in the opening round of the MurMaid Mattress Classic at Walker Valley’s “Stable.”
The Bradley boys will also play Wednesday afternoon at Cleveland High’s Raider Dome against Hardin Valley at 4:30.
The Bearettes (2-1) will host the Mountain View Inn Thanksgiving Tournament later in the week, facing Knox Webb at 3:30 Friday afternoon and both Oak Ridge at noon and Franklin County 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.
LADY HAWKS 48
Friday’s opening quarter saw the lead change hands four times but end where it started with the score knotted (10-10) for the fourth time.
Bradley netted the first nine points of the second period before the visitors finally found the bottom of the bucket with 3:15 left in the half. The Bearettes pushed their advantage to double digits by the intermission.
Down 27-17, Hamilton Heights (2-2) came roaring our of the locker room to score the first eight points of the second half to pull within two points, but the Black-and-Gold went on a 15-3 run to build its biggest lead (11) on the contest. The Lady Hawks hit the final two baskets of the period to close the gap back to 42-35 at the third buzzer.
The Chattanooga private school continued to put on the pressure on the final eight minutes, as Bradley made just two of its final dozen shots from the field. After the Lady Hawks cut the difference to just two points, Elizabeth Balogun, a 6-foot eighth-grader from Nigeria, blocked a shot. The visitors brought the ball downcourt and got it into the hands of freshman Amber Hunt, the only American on the team, and she drilled her second 3-pointer of the evening with :42 ticks on the clock to give the Lady Hawks the lead.
After a timeout, Bradley got the ball to University of Florida signee Brooke Copeland and the all-stater was hacked going to the hoop. She drained both shots to but the Bearettes back on top with 31 seconds to go and then after a three-second call agains the visitors gave the ball back, Copeland did the same thing for two more free throws with just under 16 ticks remaining to seal the victory.
“It’s a team sport. We win as a team and we lose as a team,” proclaimed Coach Reuter. “I’ve got to do a better job of making sure we don’t take anything for granted. Bottom line is we’ve got to get much better to get to where we want to go.”
Copeland posted a double-double, pacing the Bearettes with 13 points and pulling down and a dozen rebounds. Middle Tennessee signee Rebecca Reuter helped out with 10 points and eight caroms. The “Twin Towers” both blocked a pair of shots and dished off a couple of assists.
Senior Mady Stallings drilled a trio of 3-pointers as she added 11 points to the winning total, while classmate Lyndsy Davis drained a pair from “downtown” to a half dozen markers.
Sophomore Julia Gaither and freshman Hall Hughes both added five points, with the former also clearing five caroms. Freshman Emma Kate Brown pulled down four boards and snatched a pair of steals.
For the visitors, Lithuanian junior Kamile Kasculnaite led the way with 12 points, while Serbian senior Nina Vukosavljevic, who has signed to play for the New York Institute of Technology, added 10.
HAWKS 72, BEARS 64
Senior Taylor Bentley put back in an offensive rebound to open the scoring, but that turned out to be Bradley’s only lead of the contest.
Hamilton Heights scored the next 13 points and, although the hosts we able to cut the difference to just four points when the opening period horn sounded and tied the contest twice early in the second frame, the visitors never relinquished the lead.
Still leading by four at the half, the Hawks took advantage of a six-minute span in the third quarter, which saw the hosts miss a half dozen straight shots, plus turn the ball over the same amount of times, during which Hamilton Heights put 11 unanswered points on the scoreboard for a 18-point advantage.
Bradley then started chipping away at the “tall trees,” cutting the difference to 13 heading into the final period before using a 15-4 late in the game to close the gap to just four points when senior Logan Cox drained a 3-pointer in the final minute. However, 6-6 sophomore Nigerian shooting guard Ezekiel Balogun got an “old fashioned” three-point play, and Tennessee Tech signee Aleska Jugovic, from Serbia, capped his 19-point game-high effort a moment later.
The Hawks shot 50 percent (19-of-38) from in front of the arc and 41 percent (7-of-17) from beyond it, while Bradley also made half (16-of-32) of its two-pointers, but was just 6-for-23 from long range. The Bears did sink 14-1of-15 free throws. The much taller visitors won the battle fo the boards by a 38-16 margin.
Sophomore Bradley McCurdy topped the Bear effort hitting 7-of-10 shots from the field and both his free throws for a career-high 18 points.
Freshman Cole Copland came off the bench for a dozen points, plus pulled down a half dozen rebounds and dished off a pair of assists, while Cox netted 10 points.
JV BEARS 46, HAWKS 33
After trailing 27-20 at the half, the young Bears out scored the visitors 19-1 in the third period to put the game away.
Gareb Humphrey and Rashad Marshall led the victory with seven points apiece, while Swan Parker, Ty Beavers and Peyton Parker netted a half dozen apiece.
Hamilton Heights 10 7 17 14 — 48
Bradley Central 10 17 15 9 — 51
LADY HAWKS (48) — Kamile Kasculnaite 12, Nina Vukosavljevic 10, Balogun 7, Hunt 6, Monyers 6, Paulauskaite 5, Kevisaite 2.
BEARETTES (51) — Brooke Copeland 13, Mady Stallings 11, Rebecca Reuter 10, Lyndsy Davis 6, Julia Gaither 5, Halle Hughes 5, Emma Kate Brown 1, Katie Brown.
3-POINTERS: HH 6 (Vukosavljevic 2, Hunt 2, Paulauskaite, Kasculnaite); Bradley 7 (Stallings 3, Davis 2, Copeland, Hughes).
FREE THROWS: HH 1-of-9; Bradley 8-of-9.
RECORDS: Hamilton Heights 2-2; Bradley Central 2-1.
Hamilton Heights 15 18 21 18 — 72
Bradley Central 11 18 12 23 — 64
HAWKS (72) — Aleska Jugovic 19, Laurynas Vaitkus 13, Ezekiel Balogun 11, Ado 9, Roknic 7, Duran 7, Nauseda 4, Adheke 2.
BEARS (64) —Bradley McCurdy 18, Cole Copeland 12, Logan Cox 10, Daniel Clark 9, Taylor Bentley 7, Dee Crisp 6, Ty Morgan 2, Tucker Maroon.
3-POINTERS: HH 7 (Jugovic 3, Vaitkus 13, Duran, Roknic); Bradley 5 (Cox 2, McCurdy, Clark, Copeland).
FREE THROWS: HH 13-of-23; Bradley 14-of-15.
RECORDS: Hamilton Heights 4-0; Bradley Central 1-2.