All three Bradley County teams will make the 230-mile round trip to Cookeville this evening, but only one is guaranteed to come home happy.
Meeting for the fourth time this season, county rivals Bradley Central and Walker Valley will battle in a “do-or-die” contest, with the winner advancing to the Region 3-AAA championship game Thursday evening, as well as the TSSAA Sectional Game on Monday.
Cleveland High will also have a shot at a substate berth, as well as the other slot in the region title contest, but the Blue Raiders must get past a tough Stone Memorial squad in tonight’s finale.
With the Bearettes have secured their fourth straight sectional berth, the Bears would like to make it three in a row for themselves, but having to tangle with the red-hot Mustangs will prove to be a formidable task.
Bradley, led by District Coach of the Year Chuck Clark, won its first 10 5-AAA games this season, including beating the Mustangs twice on a couple of last-second shots by senior Taylor Bentley, to claim the regular season title.
However, it was Coach Bob Williams’ Walker Valley herd that got hot toward the end of the season and for the second straight year went from a fourth-place seed to claiming the district championship.
Having won 11 in a row, the senior-laden Mustangs manhandled the Bears 71-59 in the district tournament semifinals at East Hamilton, before stopping Cleveland 68-63 to claim the title.
During its current winning streak, Walker Valley has sizzled the nylon for 800 points, while holding opponents to 639, including a 73-65 victory over Cumberland County in the opening round of the region to push its overall record 22-9 on the season.
Boasting a 16-11 mark, Bradley bounced back from its defeat to the Mustangs with convincing wins over Ooltewah (67-54) in the 5-AAA consolation game and 6-AAA runner-up Cookeville (61-53), on the road for its region opener.
Tonight’s battle will tip off at 7 p.m., while the Cleveland-Stone Memorial game will follow.
The Blue Raiders come into the region semifinals with an 18-8 overall mark, having won 17 of their last 21 games after a 1-4 start to the campaign.
Led by District Co-Player of the Year Kendrick Thompson, Cleveland advanced to tonight’s play with an exciting 57-50 victory over White County in which they scored seven points in the final 7.2 seconds of the contest.
Coach Jason McCowan’s squad will be facing a Stone Memorial squad that posted at least 20 wins in all but its first season of play in 2006-07. The Panthers played in the TSSAA Class AA State Tournament in both 2010-11 and 2011-12, with a Final Four finish in the latter.
In its first season of Class AAA play, the Crossville school is 25-6 coming into tonight’s contest, riding an eight-game winning streak. The Panthers blistered the nets in an 82-71 shootout with Ooltewah in their region opener.
Tonight’s winners will return to Cookeville High School on Thursday evening for the championship game at 8 p.m.
The girls’ title game will be Wednesday evening, with Bradley (24-5) taking on high-scoring Cumberland County (28-4).
The Lady Jets are averaging 75 points a game and have topped the 80-point mark a dozen times this season, including an 84-54 thumping of McMinn County in Monday evening’s region semifinal game.
Two of Cumberland County’s losses came at the hands of White County, which the Bearettes defeated Monday evening 52-33 to earn their spot in the finals.
Bradley and the Lady Jets are very familiar with each other, having once been in the same district. The last time the two teams met was in March 2012 in Crossville, where then District 5-AAA Player of the Year Caroline Smith was taken out with an elbow to the jaw, requiring numerous stitches and giving her a concussion that prevented her from playing in the substate game. The Bearettes beat the Lady Jets by an 82-42 score, but then were upset by Lawrence County in the sectional.
Wednesday’s winner will host the loser of nationally top-ranked Blackman and Oakland, the No. 9 team in the final AP state poll, in Saturday’s sectional game, while the Bradley/Cumberland loser will have to travel to Murfreesboro that same night for a shot at a state tournament berth.