On Saturday, the Bradley Central Bearettes beat big, bad Blackman in a hard-fought hardwood tussle at Jim Smiddy Arena to secure their first sub-state victory in 19 years and first Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association state tournament berth since 2000.
On Sunday, the Bearettes – they’re 29-2 but unbeaten in Tennessee – learned their quarterfinal opponent.
It’s Johnson City Science Hill (33-3).
The Bearettes and Lady Hilltoppers will play Wednesday at 2 p.m. Eastern Time at Murphy Center on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, with the winner playing the Antioch (26-6)-Memphis Overton (31-6) winner on Friday at 12:30 p.m.
“I haven’t seen them play this season,” Bradley Central coach Jason Reuter said in a telephone interview. “We played them last summer, but that’s a long time ago. I do know they lost to Riverdale (70-55) in last year’s championship game and they’ve got every player back.”
Science Hill won 38 straight in 2011-12 before suffering its lone loss in the title game against Riverdale.
This season the Lady Hilltoppers again lost to Riverdale (89-70) in the State Farm Classic on Dec. 22, dropped a 62-52 decision to North Gwinnett (Ga.) in the Naples (Fla.) Shootout on Dec. 28and to Marion County (Ky.) in the Raatz Fence/O’Shea’s Classic in Louisville, Ky., on Jan. 26.
“I’m heading to Riverdale High School right now to pick up some tape before we leave Murfreesboro,” Reuter said. “I know they like to pick you up full-court, put a lot of pressure on you and force the issue.”
In two seasons, Riverdale is the only Tennessee team to beat the Lady Hilltoppers. Bradley Central hasn’t lost to an in-state opponent this season.
Science Hill will be making its third straight appearance in the state tournament, and in that time it has a combined 74-8. The Lady Hilltoppers lost to Memphis Central, 66-59, in the 2011 state tournament.
Coach Darrell Barnwell did not attend Sunday’s draw meeting due to the funeral of his father, Herschel in Crossville. Herschel Barnwell died Wednesday. Assistant Scottie Whaley made the trip to Murfreesboro.
As for the playing status of Reuter’s daughter, Rebecca, it wasn’t even discussed at the draw meeting, he said.
“We took copies of the game tape to the meeting to make sure TSSAA got them,” Reuter said. “The meeting probably wasn’t the time or place to talk about it. I’m hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.”
Rebecca Reuter was called for two technical fouls in Bradley’s 55-46 sub-state win over Blackman on Saturday. The second came after Reuter picked up her fifth personal foul.
According to TSSAA guidelines, Reuter, or any coach in the same situation, is suspended for the Bearettes’ next two games – barring a decision by the governing body that both were not for unsportsmanlike conduct. A decision on Reuter’s playing status should come down Monday after TSSAA officials receive a report from game referees.
If Reuter is banned, her absence will drastically change the dynamics of Bradley’s mode of operation on both ends of the court.
“The report (from game officials) won’t come out until Monday,” the coach said. “I don’t feel good about it. If you see the first technical, you just shake your head because it was just a basketball play. The girls struggle for the ball and one falls down. It’s really just unbelievable.
“What puzzled me was that the ref said the technical came well after the play. But what I see is that it was about a half-second.”
Science Hill, has won 12 straight and 20 of 21, including two games in which they twice beat David Crockett by 104-10 and 105-30 scores in February. David Crockett finished the season 1-25.
The Lady Hilltoppers defeated Farragut, 68-60, in the sub-state on Saturday.
Undefeated Riverdale (32-0) is in the opposite bracket and plays Brentwood (22-11) on Wednesday at 11 a.m. in the tournament opener.
“Riverdale is considered by just about everyone to be the tournament favorite,” Jason Reuter said. “Science Hill very well could be the second-best team in the state. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Bradley comes into the tournament riding an 11-game winning streak and has won 17 of its last 18 games. Along the way, the Bearettes claimed district and region regular season and tournament titles. They have lost only to Millbrook, N.C., and Wesleyan out of Georgia – both schools are defending champions in their respective states.
Still, getting past Blackman was a tough assignment. The Lady Blaze had previously lost four games, all coming against undefeated Riverdale before running into an inspired bunch of Bearettes on a cold night complete with snow flurries in Cleveland.
Bradley Central had lost sub-state games to Blackman, 44-27, in the 2011 and Lawrence County, 44-43 in overtime, in 2012.
In the rematch with Blackman, the Bearettes built a 13-point lead with 3:08 left but had to make 7-of-8 free throws in the final 50.8 seconds to seal the deal.
“We were a couple of times we were on the ropes,” Bearettes coach Jason Reuter said. “I was thinking could this (lose another sub-state game) really happen to us again. We missed some free throws but made them down the stretch.”
There was a huge amount of Bearettes tradition on the line Saturday as well.
Reuter said a member of the school’s 1962 state championship team, which was the first of five titles the legendary Smiddy won in his illustrious hall of fame career at Bradley, sent flowers and a note to every member of the current team prior to the showdown with Blackman.
One of the all-time great Bearettes, Zandra (Ownby) Morris also attended Saturday’s game. Ownby played for Bradley from 1966-70 and was a four-year starter, all-district and all-region performer who is a member of the Bradley County Hall of Fame.
“These girls understand the commitment that it takes to play here,” Reuter said. “This team, this year, felt an obligation. I could tell even this summer these girls know there’s something special about wearing that jersey that says Bradley Central. There’s a lot of tradition that goes with the jersey.”
Reuter, who will be making his first state tournament appearance as the team’s leader despite an 88-10 (89.8 percent) record, never hesitates to talk about what the 2012-13 Bearettes accomplished to this point.
First, they lost six graduating seniors off last year’s team.
On Nov. 29, one day before she was supposed to make a triumphant return from knee surgery in the Bearettes’ game against rival Cleveland, starting point guard Chelsie Summars went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament injury in her left knee, the same knee she injured in July 2012 that required surgery three weeks later.
Summars, a sophomore, has not played a single minute this season.
“We lost seven players but we’ve come back and are ranked higher this year than at the same point last season,” Reuter said. “These kids have shown a lot of heart all year and I’m very proud of them. Getting to the state tournament has been our goal but I really thought it was more obtainable last season.”
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)