CLEVELAND, Tenn. – Cumberland County looked into the tunnel at the approaching bright light.
Unfortunately for the Lady Jets, it was the Bradley Central Express bearing down on them.
In a game that evoked emotions from a year ago, Bradley Central clobbered Cumberland County, 87-45, on Friday night in the Region 3-AAA tournament quarterfinals behind the career-high 26 points by Kayla Withrow at Jim Smiddy Arena.
“Kayla was unbelievable the way she shot the ball tonight,” Bearettes coach Jason Reuter said. “That basket looked like a big washtub to her because she was just spotting up and letting it fly.”
Withrow, a 5-foot-7-inch guard, made 9-of-14 shots, including 6-of-9 from 3-point distance, and also had four assists. She had nine points, all coming on 3s, in the first half as Bradley roared to a 48-13 lead.
“I’m not shy at all shooting 3s,” Withrow said. “I’m very blessed to have a good team to get me the ball. This feels great.”
The District 5-AAA tournament champion Bearettes, ranked No. 7 in the latest CoachT.com poll, advanced to the semifinals and will take on McMinn County (20-8) at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at Cleveland High School. McMinn County defeated Coffee County, 39-37.
Two other 5-AAA teams saw their seasons come to an end. Walker Valley lost to Cookeville, 65-55, and Cleveland came up short against White County, 57-43.
On Saturday, the boys take center stage.
Ooltewah (17-9) goes to White County (19-11), 5-AAA tournament champion Walker Valley (18-11) hosts Warren County (13-20), Cleveland (18-11) travels to 6-AAA tourney kingpin Cumberland County (17-15) and Bradley Central (16-12) entertains Cookeville (26-7). All games start at 7 p.m. local time.
In February 2012, Bradley Central drilled Cumberland County, 82-42, but lost District 5-AAA MVP Caroline Smith when a Lady Jets played elbowed her in the face. Smith suffered a concussion and could not play two days later when the Bearettes lost to Lawrence County, 44-43, in the sectional.
“During the whole game it was in the back of our minds that this team (Cumberland County) was the reason we didn’t get to state last year because we lost Caroline,” said junior post Brooke Copeland, who scored 17 points and pulled down nine rebounds.
“We remembered that,” she added. “If we had Caroline last year in sectional, there’s no doubt we could have won that next game.”
It took less than eight minutes for Bradley to build a double-digit lead and the Bearettes (26-2) led 22-9 after one quarter.
“I think we played one of our best games of the year,” said junior Rebecca Reuter, the other half of Bradley’s Twin Towers who got into early foul trouble and saw limited action. “Last year’s game was a big factor for us. Everybody knows that wasn’t right, wasn’t fair. We were on fire tonight.”
Coach Reuter, trying to direct the Bearettes to their fifth region title dating to the 200o-01 season, did not need a one-for-the-Gipper pregame speech for this one.
“These kids have not forgotten last year’s game,” he said. “Their friend went down. We weren’t out for blood, but we were out there to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to make you pay and we’ll do it on the scoreboard. I didn’t have to stoke the fire very much.”
Bradley Central’s tenacious defense matched the offensive effort that produced a season-high point total – by 15 points.
After Cumberland sophomore Gina Dick, who scored a team-high 23 points, 15 of which came in the second half, hit a 3 with 46.7 seconds left in the first quarter, the Lady Jets didn’t score over the next 6 minutes and 7 seconds.
Kassidy Sommer, another sophomore, made two free throws to end the Lady Jets’ drought, but by that time they trailed the Bearettes, 40-11. Bradley scored 22 straight points during Cumberland’s run of offensive futility.
“Let me sum this up real quick,” Lady Jets coach Radhika Miller said. “The bottom line was our youth and inexperience. This is as good as it gets, and I’m talking about Bradley Central. They set the bar high. We knew it would be a battle. We had to play a perfect game and grow 2-3 inches during the game, and that didn’t happen.”
The Bearettes outscored the Lady Jets (10-22), 12-5, to start the third quarter for a whopping 60-18 advantage.
Despite Dick’s scoring burst Cumberland County still trailed, 73-29, heading into the fourth quarter.
Withrow was the lone starter to return to the court for the final eight minutes, which were shortened by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s mercy rule – a running clock.
Even then the Bearettes kept their foot on the gas pedal.
Up 73-34, Bradley Central went on a 14-4 run that included a 3 and two free throws by Withrow and three additional 3-pointers in succession by Maggie Thompson, Taelor Hill and Lyndsy Davis.
“We’ve got a tremendous opportunity in front of us, but also a tremendous challenge,” Jason Reuter said. “Nothing less than winning the region will satisfy us. If you don’t win region, you’re setting yourself up for a bad road because I’ll be you a dollar to a doughnut that Riverdale is going to win that region (7-AAA) over there and you don’t want to go to Riverdale with the team they’ve got. They’re ranked No. 1 and undefeated.
“You probably triple the odds (of advancing) by winning and getting a home game.”
Riverdale (29-0) routed Shelbyville, 69-45, Friday night.
Point guard Whitney McDonald was Bradley’s third player in double figures – she finished with 15 points on 6-fo-7 shooting. Thirteen of McDonald’s points came in the first half. She also had four assists.
Rebecca Reuter, while scoring just three points, pulled down a team-high 13 rebounds in just 14 minutes of play.
Brandi Whitted had six assists, six rebounds and three steals.
The Bearettes made 25-of-45 field goals, including 10-of-18 3-pointers and pulled down 46 rebounds.
“Bradley is a great team,” Miller said. “Next year my team won’t be making the mistakes we made tonight. At times, I had three freshmen on the floor tonight. We’re only going to get better.”
Cumberland County 9 4 16 16 – 45
Bradley Central 22 26 25 14 – 87
Cumberland County (45) – Iles 2, Potter 2, Gina Dick 23, Sl. VanWinkle 6, Teeple 4, Sommer 8, Hyder, Lee, McLaughlin, Sk. VanWinkle, Eldridge, Davis.
Bradley Central (87) – Hill 3, Davis, Kayla Withrow 26, Carroll 9, Whitney McDonald 15, Whitted 3, Stallings, Brooke Copeland 17, Delane, Thompson, Reuter 8.
3-Point Goals – Cumberland County 4 (Dick 2, Sl. VanWinkle 2); Bradley Central 9 (Withrow 6, Hill, McDonald, Thompson).
Saturday’s Region 3-AAA Schedule
Ooltewah at White County
Warren County at Walker Valley
Cleveland at Cumberland County
Cookeville at Bradley Central
All Games Start At 7 p.m. Local Time
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)