CLEVELAND, Tenn. – Slow-starting Bradley Central had problems with Rhea County’s inverted hard-nosed triangle-and-two defense, but once the Bearettes figured things out they turned Friday’s Region 3-AAA game into a rout.
Brooke Copeland and Rebecca Reuter, Bradley’s 6-foot-2-inch post players, combined for seven first-half points. They found their offensive niche after halftime and each finished with 17 points and a combined 23 rebounds to guide the Bearettes past the Lady Golden Eagles, 62-34, at Jim Smiddy Arena.
Bradley (23-5), the District 5-AAA champion, advances to the region semifinals and will play White County on Monday night at 7 p.m. (Eastern) at Cookeville High School. White County (22-7) eliminated Walker Valley, 59-47.
In other first-round region games, District 5-AAA runner-up McMinn County beat Cookeville and District 6-AAA champion Cumberland County shellacked Cleveland, 73-31.
“Advancing is most definitely the most important thing,” said Copeland, a University of Florida signee. “Losing tonight would not have been a good ending.”
Rhea County, the No. 4 seed from District 6-AAA, ended its season with a 22-9 record and 41-year-old coach Shane Johnston now turns his attention to open-heart surgery on March 3 at Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga to correct a “defect in his aorta.”
It’s hard for any team to keep the two Bearette seniors down for an entire game. Copeland ranks 10th on Bradley’s all-time scoring list with 2,151 points. Reuter, who signed with Middle Tennessee State University, is 16th with 1,057 points and was honored before Monday’s game for achieving the scoring milestone.
Copeland was honored earlier in the season for surpassing the 2,000-point mark.
Rhea County tried to offset its inside height deficiency by playing rough-and-tumble defense in the paint.
Copeland made two free throws in the opening quarter, but also missed a pair. Reuter went scoreless.
Junior point guard Chelsie Summars drained two 3s around Copeland’s free throws and Emma Kate Brown hit a layup and a 3 from the right corner as the Bearettes built a 13-2 first-quarter lead.
Copeland hit the deck three times in the period.
“They were extremely physical,” she said of the Lady Golden Eagles. I think I have a cracked spine right now. They’re always physical. That’s what they do. That’s what they’re known for. This was an elimination game and we knew they’d bring everything they have.”
With offensive opportunities being limited, Copeland assisted Halley Hughes for a layup – her only two points in the game – and Summars followed with her third 3 of the half and Brown nailed a 3 from the left corner after Rhea’s Julie Brown had made a 3 from the left wing. Bradley led 24-9 and eventually went to the locker room with a 26-10 advantage at halftime.
“Rhea was playing some junk defenses,” Bearettes coach Jason Reuter said, “and they were very physical. If my team is not as good as yours, I may try to harass you, hang on you and bang on you. Adolph Rupp (former Kentucky coaching legend) used to have a guy he’d send in just to start a ruckus.
“I’m not saying that was Rhea’s plan, but I have a feeling they thought the only chance they had was to get into a shoving match and see what happens.”
To start the second period, Reuter put back her own miss. Rhea’s Jessee Wallis, who scored 13 points and was the only Lady Golden Eagle in double figures, hit a 3 and Amber Levi made two free throws to whittle Bradley’s lead to 28-15.
The Bearettes, 13-1 at home this season, had long ago put an 0-for-6 shooting streak to open the game behind them, went on an 8-0 run – four points by Copeland and two each from Reuter and Brown – to push the margin out to 36-15.
In that span, however, Reuter picked up her third and fourth fouls in a lightning-quick seven-second stretch.
The Lady Golden Eagles, who have lost 20 in a row to Bradley and 44 of the last 45 dating to the days when legendary Hall of Fame coach Jim Smiddy roamed the sidelines, couldn’t mount a run all night. They made back-to-back baskets only twice and both coming when they were at least 21 points down.
“We would make a shot and even get a stop, but couldn’t get the second shot and some momentum that led to another shot,” said Johnston, who was without senior point guard Kelsey Miles, who has a knee injury that may require surgery -- except for a token appearance of just a few seconds late in the game. “No excuses. We played as hard as we could and just came up short.”
In the first half, Reuter scored just once on a 3-pointer with 6:09 left in the second period. Copeland had a field goal and two free throws.
The vaunted “Twin Towers” scored 14 of Bradley’s final 21 points – a stretch that saw the Lady Golden Eagles put up seven points – and did the damage after Rhea was forced to abandon the triangle-and-one and play man-up.
“Once you have to matchup one-on-one,” Johnston said, “those two big girls will get you most of the time.”
In the fourth quarter, Copeland and Reuter combined for 17 of the Bearettes’ final 24 points and they finished the game with 12 and 11 rebounds, respectively.
“They didn’t let me and Brooke touch the ball a lot early in the game, so they had a good game plan,” Reuter said. “They were playing very physical and I can respect that. They’re a scrappy bunch, but we started shooting the ball pretty good and were able to get a big lead.”
The Bearettes made 21-of-51 shots for 41.2 percent while Rhea hit 10 of 43 (23.3 percent) and was 4 of 22 (13.2 percent) from behind the 3-point line. Bradley went 14 of 19 on free throws, including 8 of 10 in the fourth quarter.
Jason Reuter said he talks a lot to his girls about the “will to win,” and that played a big part in Monday’s outcome, especially for team’s two key players.
“Rebecca Reuter and Brooke Copeland were going to find a way to win, whether it was a blocked shot, a rebound or by scoring,” the coach said. “I told those two the last chapter of their book is not yet written. You’re talking about the end of an era when this senior class leaves.
“We will fight to the finish. We may not win the state championship, but I think it will take an awfully fine ballclub to make this team not move on to the next round.”
Brown finished with 12 points for the Bearettes and Summars added 11 points.
Jessee Wallis scored 13 points and Amber Levi tossed in 11 for the Lady Golden Eagles.
Rhea County 2 8 9 15 – 34
Bradley Central 13 13 12 24 – 62
Rhea County (34) – Loden, Freeman 2, Jessee Wallis 13, Thurman, Brown 8, Levi 11.
Bradley Central (62) – Hughes 2, Davis, K. Brown 1, Emma Kate Brown 12, Stallings, Brooke Copeland 17, Delane 2, Chelsie Summars 11, Rebecca Reuter 17, Brumfiel, McRee.
3-Point Goals – Rhea County 4 (Wallis 2, Brown, Levi), Bradley Central 6 (Summars 3, E.K. Brown 2, Reuter).
MONDAY'S SEMIFINALS AT COOKEVILLE HIGH
Bradley Central vs White County 6 p.m.
Cumberland Co. vs McMinn Co. 7:30 p.m.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)