COOKEVILLE — For the second time in as many trips to Cookeville this season, the Bradley Central Bears made the two-hour trip home with a victory.
Pulling away at the end, Coach Chuck Clark’s squad notched a 61-53 over the District 6-AAA runner-up Cavaliers, to set up their fourth meeting of the season against county-rival Walker Valley (22-9) in Tuesday’s semifinal round back in Cookeville.
The Bears (16-11) nipped the Mustangs in a pair of two-point games settled by last-second Taylor Bentley shots, but Walker Valley claimed last week’s District 5-AAA semifinal match by a 71-59 tally in the 7 p.m. game.
In the other region Final Four matchup, Cleveland High (18-8), a 57-50 victor over White County Saturday, will tangle with 6-AAA champion Stone Memorial (25-6), a 82-71 winner over Ooltewah, in the 8:30 night cap.
Despite playing without their top player who was injured during the District 6-AAA Tournament, Cookeville (21-10) matched Bradley point-for-point in the opening period Saturday for a 16-all tie at the first horn, and held a two-point (25-23) advantage going into the locker rooms at the half.
“Coach [Patrick] Spangler suggested we speed up the game in the second half, so we did, and that made a big difference,” expressed Coach Clark. “The first time we were here in December, we spread the ball out and tried to slow them down, but tonight we used our athleticism to out run them in the second half.”
The Bears exploded for a 21-15 runs in the third period and then finished off the victory with a 17-13 margin in the final eight minutes.
“We out rebounded them [32-13 for the entire game]. We became more aggressive on offense and defense in the second half,” the Bear mentor related. “It was a total team effort. Teams win, individuals lose.”
Both teams shot the lights out from beyond the 19-foot arc, with Bradley smoking the nylon on 6-of-9 long range bombs (66 percent), while the Cavaliers hit 8-for-15 (53 percent). Cookeville also drained 48 percent (11-of-23) from two-point land, while the Bears connected on just 12-of-31 (39 percent). Bradley won the free throw shooting contest, sinking 19-of-23 (83 percent), while the hosts made 7-of-10.
Bentley led the way for Bradley with 18 points, including a pair of 3-pointers and going a perfect 10-for-10 at the charity stripe.
Senior Sam Gregory pumped in 13 points, including a late-game slam dunk, while freshman Cole Copeland helped out with a dozen points, with a pair of “treys.” Junior Daniel Clark added nine points to the winning total, while sophomore Bradley McCurdy netted seven.
Region 3-AAA Boys Tournament
Bradley Central 16 7 21 17 — 61
Cookeville 16 9 15 13 — 53
BEARS (61) — Taylor Bentley 18, Sam Gregory 13, Cole Copeland 12, Clark 9, McCurdy 7, Morgan 2, Crisp, Tucker Maroon, Walker McGowan.
CAVALIERS (53) — Jadan Richmond 15, John Payne 10, Will Buford 10, Shrum 9,Burdrant 7, Phillips 2.
3-POINTERS: Bradley 6 (Bentley 2, Copeland 2, Clark, McCurdy); Cookville 9 (Richmond 4, Shrum 3, Burdrant 2).
FREE THROWS: Bradley 19-of-21; Cookville 7-of-11.
RECORDS: Bradley 16-11; Cookeville 21-10.