Bradley Central remembers it.
And Caroline Smith can’t forget it.
“Oh, the elbow,” Smith said Thursday in a telephone interview. “I’ll never forget that.”
On Feb. 21, 2012, in Crossville, Tenn., the fourth-ranked Bradley Central Bearettes lost Smith, a senior guard and the District 5-AAA Player of the Year, to a flying elbow with about a minute left in the second quarter.
Smith, dazed by the blow delivered by a Cumberland County player, got to her feet, checked for blood and walked across the court to the Bearettes’ bench where she collapsed into the arms of an assistant coach.
Ironically, Smith, now a freshman at Lee University who is recovering from ACL surgery on her left knee, said because of the concussion suffered when caught flush on the face by the elbow she could not recall her thoughts when the incident occurred and actually had to view video tapes to see exactly what happened.
“The game was already getting chippy,” she said. “I know I got hit, went to the ground and got right back up. I think that was adrenaline. My teammate said, ‘Caroline, you need to go to the bench.’ I said, ‘Why?’ She said, ‘You’re bleeding.’ ”
Bradley coach Jason Reuter said moments after the game: “I think 99 percent (of the fans) in the gym saw it, but three officials didn’t. Other than that, I’m not at liberty to say much more.”
Later in a postgame interview, Reuter said: “I watch TV. That’s an automatic flagrant foul on any level you play. But all three guys (officials) said they didn’t see it. She took a boxer’s punch out there. I don’t know how she made it to the bench before she collapsed.
“They’re doing a CT scan at the hospital. It’s just precautionary. We think she’s fine. She’s going to need three or four stitches in her mouth. No teeth are out. It was an elbow to the head. I don’t think the kid was trying to hurt her. She just took the ball and (swung around) and hit her in the face.”
While in the emergency room, Smith, the niece of Bradley boys coach Kent Smith, was diagnosed with a concussion and in her absence the Bearettes put the finishing touches an 82-42 mauling of the Lady Jets.
Earlier this week, prior to the Region 3-AAA coaches’ meeting at Cleveland High School, Reuter was asked about last year’s Cumberland County game.
“I can’t remember all the details of the game, but I remember we won by 40 points,” he said. “I remember the game was very physical. I know we had our district MVP knocked out of the game with an elbow and taken to the emergency room.
“And I remember we led by 16 or 17 points at halftime and came out in the second half and pretty much ended the game pretty quick. The girls were playing for Caroline at that point.”
Bradley outscored Cumberland, 45-19, in the second half and matched its second-highest point total of the season – the Bearettes scored 90 in a 68-point win over Rhea County.
Two days later and playing without Smith, who averaged 12.95 points per game her senior season, the Bearettes lost to Lawrence County, 44-43, in the sectional and ended the 32-2 Bearettes’ bid to win the program’s sixth state title and first since 1976.
“That was the hardest thing I had ever done,” Smith said. “We had worked hard to get where we were and then I had to leave my teammates hanging.”
When the Region 3-AAA quarterfinals begin on Friday with four games at on-campus sites, Cumberland County will play at Bradley Central in a rematch of last year’s title game.
“Last year was an unfortunate situation,” Reuter said, “and I don’t think anybody would like to see that happen again.”
A year later, the teams are the same.
Some circumstances have changed.
Bradley Central (25-2), ranked No. 7 in the latest CoachT.com Class AAA poll, goes into Friday’s game having tucked away its third straight District 5-AAA tournament title and riding a seven-game winning streak.
Last year’s rout of Cumberland County was Bradley’s 27th consecutive victory. The Lady Jets were 19-14, having won 5 of 7 games, before running into the Bearettes in the regional championship game. They had six seniors and plenty of experience.
After the shellacking dealt by Bradley, the Lady Jets, who were led all season by six seniors, lost their sectional game in a 96-29 blowout against Riverdale.
This time around Bradley Central is 25-2, with losses to out-of-state powerhouses Millbrook (N.C.) and Wesleyan (Ga.). The Bearettes are averaging 58.7 points per game and holding opponents to 39.4 points.
Cumberland County is 10-21 and coming off back-to-back losses in the District 6-AAA tournament to Cookeville and White County. The Lady Jets average 47.6 points per game and give up 51.4 points.
Bradley Central is the No. 1 seed in the upper bracket, Cumberland County is the No. 4 seed.
Even without factoring in last year’s on-court incident that prematurely ended Smith’s season into this year’s equation, the Bearettes would still be heavy favorites.
“I lost six seniors, but they’ve still got their two big post players,” Lady Jets coach Radhika Miller said. “We have to shoot the ball well from the perimeter and execute a half-court defense in this game.”
Bradley Central’s Twin Towers present a stiff challenge for the Lady Jets, who won’t have a player taller than 5-10 on the floor.
Junior posts Brooke Copeland and Rebecca Reuter, the coach’s daughter, have scored in double figures in the same game 15 times this season.
The 6-foot-1-inch Copeland is the Bearettes’ leading scorer, averaging 20-plus points per game. If an opposing team concentrates too much on Copeland, she is more than willing to help Reuter, who stands 6-2, inflict offensive hurt of her own.
Reuter averages about 11 points per game.
Point guard Whitney McDonald scores about nine points and wings Kayla Withrow and Brandi Whitted seven and five points, respectively. McDonald, Withrow and Whitted are all seniors.
“I think we have Cumberland overmatched inside,” Jason Reuter said.
But Reuter realizes the Lady Jets have the potential to, on a good shooting night, to neutralize the Bearettes’ advantage with an effective 3-point performance.
“The 3-ball can change a game,” he said. “We’ve got to respect them and guard the 3-ball. In one tape I’ve watched they must have shot 25 to 35 3s against Cookeville. Their No. 12 (Sloane VanWinkle) seems like their best 3-point shooter.
“And they’ll use a 1-2-1-1 full-court press, the same one that John Wooden made famous and try to trap the first pass in. I don’t think they’ll be able to do that against us.
VanWinkle, a point guard, is the lone senior on the Lady Jets’ roster, which is rounded out by six freshmen, four sophomores and one junior.
Freshman power forward Courtney Smith, who at 6-3 is the Lady Jets’ tallest player, is not available for Friday’s game. Smith, who started two games and played at least a half in every other game, had an allergic reaction Amoxicillin for treatment of pneumonia and collapsed lung and will be unable to play basketball until at least the summer.
Smith had a team-high 14 points one game before being sidelined. She averaged about seven points and seven rebounds for the season.
Miller’s 2011-12 relied heavily on guard play, but still had problems with Bradley Central’s defensive pressure in the region title game. It could happen again on Friday.
“I’ve got a young team,” she said. “We’re playing three or four freshmen. We have good young talent and they’re getting experience, but playing a team the caliber of Bradley is going to be a great challenge for us.”
As with other teams dominated by youthful players, the Lady Jets have been hamstrung with inconsistent play. In back-to-back January losses, Cumberland scored 55 points against White County and the next night managed just 28 against Warren County.
On Feb. 11 the Lady Jets won at Cookeville, 65-61.
“That,” Reuter said, “got my attention right away.”
Five days later in the District 6-AAA tournament at Cumberland County, Cookeville defeated the Lady Jets, 83-57.
On Friday, the Lady Jets will take another crack at Bradley Central and a substantial number of fans from both schools will be on hand.
Among the loyal Bradley Central followers will be Caroline Smith.
“I’m excited about seeing this game,” she said.
Region 3-AAA Tournament Schedule
Cumberland County (10-21) at Bradley Central (25-2)
White County (19-11) at Cleveland (17-9)
Walker Valley (15-15) at Cookeville (21-10)
McMinn County (19-8) at Coffee County (15-14)
Ooltewah (17-9) at White County (19-11)
Cookeville (26-7) at Bradley Central (16-12)
Cleveland (18-11) at Cumberland County (17-15)
Warren County (13-20) at Walker Valley (18-11)
All Games Start At 7 p.m. Local Time
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)