CLEVELAND, Tenn. – McMinn County knew it had to shoot lights out to have a chance against seventh-ranked Bradley Central.
Unfortunately, the Lady Cherokees shot like somebody had turned the lights off.
Bradley Central wiped out an early 10-2 deficit and the Bearettes methodically did what it had done twice previously this season – demolish McMinn County.
The Bearettes got double-double performances from Whitney Donaldson, Brooke Copeland and Rebecca Reuter and steamrolled the Lady Cherokees, 72-51, Monday night in the Region 3-AAA tournament semifinals at Cleveland High School.
“Once we got the lead (14-12) we went to a 2-3 zone and we had a measuring stick in our game up at Athens,” Bradley Central coach Jason Reuter said. “We had a five-point lead, went to a zone and went on a 28-2 run. So I went to a zone (Monday) to save our legs and keep us out of foul trouble.”
After falling behind 10-2, the Bearettes went on a 12-0 run and grabbed the early two-point lead. A 13-0 burst in the second quarter pushed Bradley’s lead to 27-14.
The Lady Cherokees were in trouble.
“Against a state-ranked team, you have to score with them,” said McMinn County coach Tim McPhail, who is 1-16 against the Bearettes in six seasons. “They’re a high-powered team and they can score in a hurry. And we shot poorly tonight.”
After making their first three shots, the Lady Cherokees missed nine straight shots, 17-of-20 and finished shooting near 23 percent.
The Bearettes (27-2) advanced to the championship game and will play White County (21-11) on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Raider Dome. White County knocked off Cookeville, 43-32, after losing twice to the Cavaliers in the regular season.
With Monday’s wins, Bradley, ranked seventh in the CoachT.com poll, and White County also earned berths in the Saturday’s sectional round.
On Tuesday, boys semifinals are scheduled and it’s a showcase for District 5-AAA teams. Ooltewah (18-9) plays district tournament champion Walker Valley (19-11) at 6 p.m. and Cleveland (19-11) takes on Bradley Central at 7:30 p.m.
The boys championship game is set for Friday at 7 p.m.
Donaldson, a point guard, had 12 points and 11 assists in a solid performance at point guard as the Bearettes defeated McMinn County for the third time this season – by an average margin of 21.7 points.
“I think I had one of my better games tonight,” Donaldson said. “I’m just trying to help us get to the state tournament, doing everything I can to the best of my ability.”
Said Reuter: “Whitney plays with a lot of heart and passion. She’s playing with confidence, seeing the floor better than at any time all season and shooting much better. She’s attacking the basket for a girl of her size (5-foot-four-inches) and if you don’t get an angle she’s going to use that backboard and lay it in on you.”
Copeland, a 6-1 post, had a game-high 25 points and team-high 14 rebounds.
Reuter, a 6-2 post, scored 12 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.
“It’s hard to get three double-doubles in high school basketball,” said Reuter, who is 9-0 against McMinn County in three seasons.
Kayla Withrow was the fourth Bradley player in double figures with 12 points.
McMinn County (20-9) got out the gate quickly, scoring 10 of the game’s first 12 points. Junior KeKe Smith hit two 3-pointers in the early spree.
“That surprised me,” Reuter said of Smith’s early 3s. “We haven’t seen that out of her in our other games with them. Once we started making it a transition game, our five could outrun their five.”
Smith’s field goal early in the second quarter tied the game at 14, but Bradley unleashed a 13-0 run to push the lead to 27-14. A Copeland-Reuter-Copeland streak extended the Bearettes’ cushion to 33-18 and it was 33-22 at halftime.
McMinn County shot 24 percent in the first two quarters.
Bradley’s switch to the 2-3 zone bothered McMinn.
“We haven’t been a great shooting team all year,” McPhail said. “And we’ve had problems with zone defenses all year.”
The Bearettes outscored the Lady Cherokees, 16-7, starting the third quarter and on one possession McMinn County missed five point-blank attempts. On the other end, Copeland stepped out for her lone 3-pointer of the game and Bradley had a 49-29 advantage.
The Lady Cherokees missed their final five shots of the quarter, including four on one trip in front court.
“The first four minutes were rough,” Copeland said. “After that we got done what needed to be done. We turned it up defensively. We knew this was an elimination game and had to put them away or we’d be going home if we lost.”
Bradley Central had one more mini-run to throw at McMinn County.
The Bearettes outscored the Lady Cherokees, 8-3, to start the final eight-minute period and the lead went to 62-37 with 4:25 left.
McMinn’s only points came on Haley Ward’s 3. McMinn missed its next six shots and before Ward made three more high-arcing 3-pointers 2 minute, 18-second stretch, but the Bearettes still led by 67-46.
Ward scored 12 of McMinn’s 17 fourth-quarter points and finished with a team-high 19. Alisa Guardiola had 13 points and Smith added 11, including three 3s.
“I don’t think the slow start affected us,” Withrow said. “I knew we’d come back and win. I do think we need to come out faster in our next game.”
Bradley won the rebounding battle, 37-26, but Reuter wasn’t happy that 18 of the Lady Cherokees’ boards came on the offensive glass.
“Our goal is for eight or less,” he said, “so we get exposed sometimes. When Rebecca was out you saw (McMinn) get three or four shots on the offensive end. I can’t substitute for size, speed or shooting.”
Monday marked the fifth time since 1994-95 Bradley has faced McMinn County in a playoff elimination game, and the Bearettes have won all five.
McMinn County 10 12 12 17 – 51
Bradley Central 14 19 21 18 – 72
McMinn County (51) – Haley Ward 19, Burke 4, Dispensa 4, Kelley, Alisa Guardiola 13, Thompson, Lockmiller, KeKe Smith 11, Brooks.
Bradley Central (72) – Hill, Kayla Withrow 12, Carroll 2, Whitney McDonald 12, Whitted 4, Brooke Copeland 23, Thompson, Delane, Rebecca Reuter 12, Pinnenger, Stallings.
3-Point Goals: McMinn County 7 (Ward 4, Smith 3); Bradley Central 7 (Withrow 4, Hill, McDonald Copeland).
Walker Valley (19-11) vs. Ooltewah (18-9), 6 p.m.
Cleveland (19-11) vs. Bradley Central (17-12), 7:30 p.m.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)