MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Bradley Central coach Jason Reuter led a three-player contingent into the postgame interview room at Murphy Center on the Middle Tennessee State University campus Wednesday.
Reuter was the only one with dry eyes.
Junior Brooke Copeland had been weeping.
So too had senior Baylee Carroll.
And, junior Whitney Donaldson.
“This is tough,” Copeland said. “We have worked so hard to get here, especially the seniors, and it’s very hard to be thinking that it’s over for them and they won’t be playing with us anymore.”
“This” was a 64-38 whuppin’ Science Hill of Johnson City put on the Bearettes, who finished the season 29-3. With the loss, Bradley’s 11-game winning streak went up in smoke.
There was little positive to come out of Wednesday’s beating, a game in which Bradley Central put up its lowest point total since losing to Girls Preparatory School, 53-33, on Nov. 27, 2011, in a Thanksgiving tournament in Jim Smiddy Arena.
“These tears of sadness will turn to tears of joy pretty soon,” Reuter said, referring to the 2013-14 season when Copeland and Rebecca Reuter, the Bearettes’ Twin Tower in the post, return for their senior years.
Also, point guard Chelsie Summars, now rehabbing from her second ACL surgery on her left knee, is expected to be back better than ever. She attended Wednesday’s game and is still on crutches.
Rebecca Reuter, of course, did not dress out for Wednesday’s game due to a two-game suspension handed down by the TSSAA after she picked up two technical fouls in Bradley’s 55-46 sub-state win over Blackman on Saturday.
Against a solid Science Hill squad, the Lady Hilltoppers (34-3) advanced to the semifinals, one win shy of reaching their second straight championship game (they lost to Riverdale in last year’s title game), the Bearettes appeared disjointed offensively and couldn’t find an answer for derailing Science Hill.
It’s the second time this season Bradley Central has managed to score under 40 points. The Bearettes lost to Millbrook, the defending North Carolina state champion, 45-38, on Dec. 29 in the Upward Classic in Roebuck, S.C.
The Bearettes, who were making their 26th state tournament appearance overall, but the first since 2000, struggled mightily shooting the basketball accurately.
Bradley Central made 13-of-46 field-goal attempts, a paltry 28.3 percent, for the game.
The Bearettes went 4-for-13 in the first period. That’s 30.8 percent.
They were 2-of-13 in the second period, an anemic 15.4 percent.
At halftime, Bradley was 6-of-26, and that’s 23.1 percent.
In the third quarter, the Bearettes’ made 3-of-10 shots, or 30 percent.
In the final eight-minute segment, Bradley was 4-of-10 for 40 central.
Total the number up and the Bearettes went 13-for-36 from the field, a paltry 28.3 percent for the game.
Oh, on 3-point shooting? Bradley was 4-of-14 for 28.6 percent.
“I think with Becca (Rebecca Reuter) out and our shots not falling we got down on ourselves,” said Carroll, who was 3-of-7 from the field. “At halftime, we kept saying let’s keep fighting, don’t give up, we can do this.”
Unfortunately, Bradley never shook off its shooting woes.
“Science Hill made it tough on us to find open shots,” Donaldson said. “We weren’t getting many offensive opportunities.
Donaldson was 3-of-11 from the floor.
Hey, this was an equal opportunity of errant shots.
Copeland, the team’s leading scorer, went 6-of-21 from the field and missed all three of her 3-point attempts. She did manage to register another double-double with 17 points and a game-high 16 rebounds.
“Their defense is really good,” said Copeland, who frequently had a defender (Gabby Lyon) and any one of a couple other Lady Hilltoppers ready to guard her from behind.
“They packed it in. They knew what they had to do to stop me and stop us. Our flow really goes around me and with Becca not being out there for them to worry about, they focused solely on me. My teammates have done an amazing job this year getting me the ball, so it was frustrating to know we couldn’t do what we normally do.”
Reuter, a 6-foot-2-inch junior post, picked up two technical fouls in the Bearettes’ sub-state win over Blackman, but had to sit out Wednesday’s game. She will also miss the 2013-14 season opener.
Bradley Central has appeared in 26 state tournaments and only four other teams in the entire field, no matter the classification, are in double figures.
But the current Bearettes had never been on the floor in the spacious Murphy Center for a state tournament game.
“I’d say just about everybody on average would probably shoot worse here than in their home gym,” Jason Reuter said. “And I’d say today was a combination of having one of those days and fatigue. We only really played six girls.”
Bradley’s five starters – Copeland, Carroll, Donaldson, Kay Withrow and Brandi Whitted – played an average of 29.8 minutes. Copeland played all 32, Carroll 31 and Withrow 30. Donaldson and Whitted played 29 and 27 minutes, respectively.
“If you play this game at a high level, and I’m not talking church league or at the YMCA, you understand fatigue,” Reuter said. “Vince Lombardi once said fatigue will make cowards out of all of us.
“We have a lack of depth and you’d be amazed by what one or two more rotations can do for a team. When you’re sucking air it’s tough to knock down those jump shots.”
Reserves Taelor Hill and Lyndsy Davis combined for 7 minutes and four other Bearettes were each credited with 1 minute.
None of Bradley’s bench players scored. Science Hill reserves scored 17 points, 12 coming from Keisha Gregory.
There was another factor that led Science Hill getting off 58 shots compared to Bradley’s 46.
The Lady Hilltoppers’ defense was pretty darn good and that forced Bradley to use up time just to get off a shot at times.
“We fiddled around on the perimeter too much,” said Reuter, 88-11, in three seasons. “We tried to run out motion stuff and never quite got into it.”
Science Hill coach Darrell Barnwell felt his defense “took away” a lot of things Bradley likes to do offensively.
“Overall, we did a good job defensively and them not having forty-two (Rebecca Reuter) didn’t change our plans as much as it did theirs,” he said. “And where they missed her most was in rebounding. We had 18 offensive rebounds and we probably don’t get that many if she’s playing.”
Science Hill outrebounded Bradley Central, 47-32. The battle on the boards was 22-21, Science Hill, in the first half. The Lady Hilltoppers had a 25-11 advantage in the second half.
Enjelica Reid led Science Hill with 11 rebounds, seven on the offensive glass, and Shy Copney pulled down 10, eight on the defensive end.
Copney also led the Lady Hilltoppers with 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting. Gregory got her 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
Copney said she had one thought when it was learned Bradley Central would be without one of its two star post players.
“Go inside,” she said. “We had to rebound and play good defense. I think we did that.”
Science Hill made 6-of-20 3-point attempts for 30 percent, barely better than Bradley’s long-distance shooting.
“I really think if we had Becca today this game would have been a different story,” Jason Reuter said. “We had matchup problems inside and couldn’t control the boards. Becca is having a hard time understanding all of this. She’s devastated.
“If she deserved this I wouldn’t be trying to rescue her. I wouldn’t. The second technical, OK, we can live with that. The first one, the two girls are going for a rebound. To call a technical on that was ludicrous.”
Reuter hopes Wednesday’s bad game won’t overshadow Bradley’s very good season. The Bearettes came in riding an 11-game winning streak and had won 17 of their last 18.
“This is a great accomplishment for these girls to get here,” he said. “We’ve been knocking on that door to get here and finally knock the door down and we have another hurdle thrown at us. Everyone knows what happened last year.”
The Bearettes lost District 5-AAA Player of the Year Caroline Smith to a concussion after she caught a flying elbow in the Region 3-AAA title game win over Cumberland County, only to lose in the sub-state, by one point to Lawrence County two days later.
“It’s hard for me to get over this,” he said, “but I’m an adult and I know this will soon pass.”
Reuter is hoping his returning players can put Wednesday’s game in the rear view mirror as quickly as possible.
“It’s going to be exciting next year,” said Copeland, still fighting to keep from crying. “We have to know we can’t let this happen again. If we have adversity, we have to overcome it. We have to finish what we start.”
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)