CLEVELAND, Tenn. – Since Jan. 25 when the Ooltewah at Bradley Central basketball game was postponed due to inclement weather, or the threat of such conditions, the Owls and Bears have been thinking that a District 5-AAA regular-season title and the tournament’s No. 1 seed would be on the line when the teams finally meet on Friday.
Until Wednesday, that is.
At the pre-tournament coaches meeting held at Cleveland High School, the suspense of the tournament’s top seed was eliminated by a coin toss that gave the Owls (16-8, 9-2) the No. 1 spot regardless of Friday’s outcome.
A Bradley Central victory in the regular-season finale would have had the potential to set up a three-way tie between the Owls, Bears and Blue Raiders of Cleveland.
However, both the Bears and Blue Raiders lost Tuesday and those same-night setbacks moved the Owls into sole possession of first place in the late-season standings.
Cleveland (16-9, 9-3) currently is second, just ahead of Bradley Central (14-10, 8-3). But as the tie-breaker system is set up, the Bears can do no better than the No. 3 tournament seed and when Cleveland lost the coin toss to Ooltewah, the Blue Raiders were sealed at No. 2.
Cleveland completed its district schedule on Tuesday with a 73-70 home-court loss to Rhea County (11-14, 5-7), the No. 5 seed, behind a 41-point performance by Eagles junior Jalen Smith.
So, there is one primary factor now remaining for the Owls-Bears showdown in Jim Smiddy Arena – win and gain momentum going into the tournament, which starts Feb. 13.
“We need to be just like first place is still on the line,” said Owls coach Jesse Nayadley, who added that Thursday’s game at home against Tyner has been canceled. “That’s what we’ve been talking about for a week and a half because I don’t think anybody expected both Cleveland and Bradley to lose (Tuesday) night, and that’s what the game was going to be for – first place.”
Walker Valley (15-10, 5-7), the No. 4 seed, knocked off Bradley Central (14-10, 8-3), 73-70.
Cleveland will play seventh-seeded Soddy-Daisy (9-14, 2-10) next Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in the tournament’s first boys game.
Bradley Central is set to play No. 6 McMinn County (8-15, 3-9) next Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
Rhea County and Walker Valley play on Feb. 15 at 7:30 p.m.
With its No. 1 seed, Ooltewah drew a first-round bye and takes on the Walker Valley-Rhea County winner on Feb. 16 at 6 p.m. in a semifinal matchup.
More importantly, the bye assures the Owls a spot in the Region 3-AAA tournament.
“With the district being five quality teams deep and the other two not being bad, the top seed puts us in the region tournament,” Nayadley said. “We’re at least a four-seed in region, so it’s a big deal.”
The Owls, who went into a Christmas tournament riding a nine-game winning streak that included a second-place finish in a holiday tourney in Charleston, S.C., have struggled of late by losing four of their last six games.
They’re coming off a 52-40 loss at Maryville on Monday.
“We played better in our last couple games and while we’re not all the way out of our (slump), but we’re working on it,” Nayadley said. “We had a real good practice on Tuesday and, coupled with two good games in a row, we’re getting closer.”
While some pressure has been alleviated on the outcome of Friday’s game, Nayadley won’t try to lessen the significance of playing Bradley Central in the final regular-season game.
“I’m not going to tell them my mind has been changed by the (coin toss),” he said. “I’m going to act like I don’t know it happened. The less they know the better. We’ll absolutely talk about winning and getting momentum for the tournament.
“To be honest, though, our senior guys have been up there enough that they know what they’re in for. I expect them to be ready. I don’t expect them to play any different. They’ve won up there and they’ve lost up there. We’ll be fired up. I don’t know how we’ll play, but they’ll be fired up.”
The girls bracket was much easier to settle.
Bradley Central’s Lady Bears (22-2, 11-0) ran away with the district’s regular-season title and the accompanying top seed 2 ½ games with one remaining.
Coach Jason Reuter’s Lady Bears weren’t tested in their first meeting with Ooltewah, routing the Lady Owls, 72-24, on Dec. 11.
Bradley Central was unbeaten against Tennessee schools (21-0), losing only to Millbrook, N.C., and Wesleyan School of Norcross, Ga. Millbrook is the defending Class 4A state champion and Wesleyan is a five-time defending state champion.
Otherwise, the Lady Bears are 22-0, including one win over Northwest Whitfield (Ga.).
Reuter, whose daughter, Rebecca, is a star on this year’s squad, is 81-10 in three seasons leading Bradley Central.
Coach Donnie Mullins’ Lady Owls (5-18, 2-9) have lost six of eight games and snapped an 11-game losing streak by beating Soddy-Daisy, 45-38, on Jan. 8. Ooltewah also beat the Lady Trojans, 54-43, on Feb. 1. Ooltewah’s second win was also against Soddy-Daisy, a 54-43 decision on Feb. 1.
Seventh-seed Soddy-Daisy (10-14, 012) takes on No. 2 McMinn County (16-6, 9-3) at 6 p.m. next Wednesday in the tournament’s first game.
Other first-round games pit No. 6 Ooltewah and No. 3 Cleveland (15-8, 7-5) at 6 p.m. on Feb. 14 and No. 4 Walker Valley (13-13, 6-6) and No. 5 Rhea County (18-8, 6-6). Walker Valley won a coin toss for the No. 4 seed.
District 5-AAA Tournament Schedule
At Cleveland High School
Wednesday, Feb. 13
6 p.m. – Soddy-Daisy vs. McMinn County, girls
7:30 p.m. – Soddy-Daisy vs. Cleveland, boys
Thursday, Feb. 14
6 p.m. – Ooltewah vs. Cleveland, girls
7:30 p.m. – McMinn County vs. Bradley Central, boys
Friday, Feb. 15
6 p.m. – Rhea County vs. Walker Valley, girls
7:30 p.m. – Rhea County vs. Walker Valley, boys
Saturday, Feb. 16
3 p.m. – Bradley Central vs. Walker Valley-Rhea winner, girls
4:30 p.m. – Cleveland-Ooltewah winner vs. McMinn-Soddy-Daisy winner, girls
6 p.m. – Ooltewah vs. Walker Valley-Rhea winner, boys
7:30 p.m. – Bradley-McMinn winner vs. Cleveland-Soddy-Daisy winner, boys
Monday, Feb. 18
6 p.m. – Girls consolation
7:30 – Girls championship
Tuesday, Feb. 19
6 p.m. – Boys consolation
7:30 p.m. – Boys championship
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)