CLEVELAND, Tenn. – Things are getting serious now.
Bradley Central’s Brooke Copeland scored 29 points and grabbed 11 rebounds Wednesday night in a 53-42 victory over White County as the Bearettes won their third consecutive Region 3-AAA basketball tournament championship at Cleveland High School.
Ooltewah (19-9) and Bradley Central (18-12) battle Thursday night for the boys championship. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. The same two teams played last season for the title, with the Owls winning, 60-58.
The Bearettes (28-2), who are ranked seventh in the latest CoachT.com poll, advanced to Saturday’s sub-state game – one win shy of the state tournament – and will host Blackman (26-4) at 7 p.m.
Blackman lost to powerhouse Riverdale, 61-49, in the Region 4-AAA title game. All four Blackman losses came against Riverdale (31-0), which is ranked No. 5 nationally by USA Today.
“The good news is we host a sub-state game,” said Bradley Central coach Jason Reuter, who is 87-10 in three seasons after beating the Warriorettes for the third time this season. “The bad news is that some people think the second-best team in the state is Blackman.”
White County (21-12), who won a state title in 1929 and was runner-up in 1991 and 1992, goes to Riverdale in Murfreesboro on Saturday.
“We’re going over there and put up a dadgum fight,” Warriorettes coach Bryan Haley said. “We won’t lay down. It’s nothing but gravy for us the rest of the way.”
Copeland, a 6-foot-1-inch junior post who scored 60 points in three games against White County, admitted the Bearettes desperately wanted to win and avoid playing Riverdale in the sub-state.
“A win meant us having another home game and we definitely wanted Blackman over Riverdale to have a shot at the state tournament,” Copeland said. “White County has to go to Riverdale and we all know what that means.”
Riverdale has won 54 consecutive games.
Riverdale has won two of the past three Class AAA state championships and finished second to Memphis Central in 2011.
Riverdale has a 128-7 record over the past four seasons.
The last time Riverdale wasn’t in the state tournament was in 2009 when Blackman beat the Lady Warriors, 63-51, in the Region 4-AAA tournament. Riverdale was 28-6 that season.
At this stage of the season, the home court doesn’t guarantee a victory.
A year ago, Bradley routed Cumberland County for the region title, earned the role of host only to lose to Lawrence County, 44-43, without its top player, District 5-AAA Player of the Year Caroline Smith – she was knocked out by a flying elbow against Cumberland County and suffered a season-ending concussion.
“We thought we had a great shot playing at home last year, but lost in overtime,” Reuter said. “Anybody who keeps up with girls basketball knows that if you lost this game tonight your destiny was not bright having to go to Riverdale.
“We need a huge crowd to come out Saturday and support us and let’s get Jim Smiddy Arena rocking a little bit.”
To avert a matchup with Riverdale, Bradley had to take care of White County.
It wasn’t easy.
It wasn’t pretty.
It was, however, a win.
Copeland scored 13 first-half points, 6-2 junior post Rebecca Reuter had seven points – she also finished with a game-high 14 rebounds and blocked four shots before fouling out – and the Bearettes went to the locker room with a shaky, 24-22 lead.
Bradley Central was up 22-13 but Kelsey Roberts and Loren Foster hit back-to-back 3s and Roberts ripped another 3 to tie the game at 22-22 with 21.6 seconds left in the second quarter.
Copeland countered with a layup with 2.8 seconds left.
“I thought Copeland had a big half, but we were just down two at halftime,” Haley said. “We wanted to make those two post players shoot from 6-feet out and do a good job on their 3-point shooters. Some of that worked.”
To get the third quarter started, Bradley’s Kayla Withrow hit a 3, White County’s Allyson Quillen, who scored 11 points, made a bucket and Roberts drove the lane for a layup to pull the Warriorettes to within 27-26.
Copeland popped a straight-on shot, Withrow drained a 3 and Copeland’s put-back gave Bradley a 34-27 advantage. Roberts, who led White County with 15 points, answered with another 3-pointer – she had three in the game – and the Warriorettes were still hanging around at 34-30.
How did they do it?
“They packed it in on defense, we didn’t shoot great early,” Reuter said. “We had a few miscues. They were very patient, they set a lot of screens and back-screens trying to get Foster open, but I thought Brandi (Whitted) did a whale of a job guarding her.”
Foster scored nine points.
Over the next four-plus minutes, Copeland and Reuter – she scored 44 points, including a career-high 19, against the Warriorettes this season – each had four points while White County only got a Quillen free throw and the Bearettes stretched the lead to 42-31 with 5:50 left in the game.
Latha Wilson’s goal trimmed Bradley’s lead to 42-33, but Copeland’s three-point play and Reuter’s layup off an assist by Whitney Donaldson pushed the lead to 47-35 with 1:20 remaining.
The Bearettes, who outrebounded White County 31-17, were 6-for-6 from the free throw line – four by Copeland – over the final 61 seconds to preserve their most important win of the season.
“We hoped we could stay close and make a run late and see if they might fold a little bit,” Haley said. “I thought we could win this game if we hit some 3s. Hats off to Bradley because they’ve won three (region titles) in a row and I’m sure they’ll represent the region well. We’re going to do our best, too.”
Bradley Central is now 6-7 all-time against White County.
White County 9 13 9 11 – 42
Bradley Central 11 13 14 15 – 53
White County (42) – Allyson Quillen 11, Hudgens 2, King 2, Wilson 2, Foster 9, Kelsey Roberts 15, Taylor, Lewis, Johnson, H.Howard, E.Howard, L.Quillen.
Bradley Central (53) – Withrow 6, Davis, Carroll, Donaldson 2, Whitted 3, Brooke Copeland 29, Rebecca Reuter 13.
3-Point Goals: White County 5 (Roberts 3, Foster 2); Bradley Central 3 (Withrow 2, Whitted).
Bradley Central – Brooke Copeland, Rebecca Reuter, Kayla Withrow
White County – Allyson Quillen, Loren Foster, Kelsey Roberts
McMinn County – KeKe Smith, Haley Ward
Cookeville – Hannah Goolsby, Sydney Robinson
Ooltewah (19-9) vs. Bradley Central (18-12), 7 p.m.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)