COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Bradley Central’s Bearettes used a 15-4 third-quarter run to pull away from White County and went on to post a convincing 52-33 victory over the Warriorettes in the Region 3-AAA basketball tournament semifinals on Monday night at Cookeville High School.
The Bearettes (24-5), extending their winning streak to 14, will be gunning for their fourth consecutive region title when they play Cumberland County’s Lady Jets (28-4) on Wednesday at 8 p.m. Eastern. Cumberland County destroyed McMinn County, 84-54, in Monday’s second semifinal.
“This was a big game,” said post Rebecca Reuter, a Middle Tennessee State University signee with 1,072 career points at Bradley. “Coach (Jason) Reuter was a little nervous about this one. We’re guaranteed a sub-state game, but we want to be playing at Jim Smiddy Arena (the Bearettes’ home gym). This will be my fourth straight region final and we want another four-peat.”
Bradley Central claimed its fourth straight District 5-AAA championship last week and crushed Rhea County, 62-34, to reach the region semifinal matchup with White County.
The Bearettes defeated the Warriorettes, 53-42, in the 2013 region title game.
Advancing to the championship game is also another feather in the cap of Copeland, who has scored 2,171 points in her illustrious four-year career.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” she said. “God has blessed me beyond belief with this and being around basketball, the players and coaches at Bradley Central.”
The Bearettes are 7-7 all-time against White County. The Warriorettes and Bearettes have met five times in sub-state elimination games with White County winning four of those showdowns, but on Monday the Bearettes ended White County’s season at 22-8.
On Tuesday – also at Cookeville High – the boys’ semifinals will be played.
Walker Valley (22-9) plays Bradley Central (16-11) at 7 p.m. and Cleveland (18-8) takes on Stone Memorial at 8:30 p.m. The boys’ championship will is scheduled for Thursday at 8 p.m.
Copeland led Bradley Central with 20 points and 13 rebounds and Reuter, her in-the-paint sidekick, had 15 points and 15 rebounds. The dynamic duo combined for all 17 of Bradley’s first-half points – Reuter had nine and Copeland eight – and that was enough for a 17-14 lead.
“I kept hoping we’d finally bang one down,” said Jason Reuter, now 4-0 against White County. “I was concerned about that, but luckily the size and rebounding of Brooke and Becca was enough to overcome that.”
The Bearettes’ perimeter scoring was non-existent for the game’s first 18 minutes until point guard Chelsie Summars scored after Reuter’s layup started the game-changing 15-4 run.
Copeland then made back-to-back layups, sandwiching a field goal by White County’s Kelsey Roberts, to give the Bearettes a 25-16 lead. Emma Kate Brown hit a 3-pointer from the left wing, White County’s Loren Foster made two free throws and Brown came back with a driving layup.
Reuter hit a layup and Copeland’s putback of a Reuter miss with 0.8 seconds left gave Bradley Central a 35-21 lead after three quarters.
“The guards scoring in that run was very important,” Brown said. “We needed those shots to start falling because they drew White County’s defense out of the middle and away from Brooke and Becca. That was a big factor.”
Copeland said the key points from Summars and Brown once again proved a point to any future opponents.
“Teams think they know how to beat us, and that’s by keying on Becca and me,” the University of Florida signee said. “But we have some secret weapons and defenses can’t stop all of them. Chelsie and Emma Kate knocking down those shots opened up a whole different game for us.”
Said White County coach Bryan Haley, “Our plan wasn’t to completely shut them down from the perimeter because we knew those girls could make shots. That’s the defense we’ve played all year. That’s our identity.”
What bothered Haley more than Bradley’s perimeter play helping Copeland and Reuter inside, was his team’s poor shooting.
The Warriorettes made 2 of 12 3-pointers, an anemic 16.7 percent, and shot 32 percent (8 of 25) on twos.
“That says a lot,” Haley, 1-4 against Bradley Central with the lone win coming in the first round of the 2010 Region 3-AAA tournament, said of his team's long-distance woes. “Neither team shot great in the first half, but we were only down three points. I told the girls to keep taking good shots and we’ll start making them. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.”
The Bearettes 17 of 36 shots for 47 percent, but made only 1 of 8 from 3-point distance.
Jason Reuter went into the game believing Foster was White County’s best player. Copeland drew the defensive assignment on Foster, who scored one first-half point – a free throw with 4:44 left in the opening quarter. Foster put up five points in the third quarter, but was scoreless over the game’s 8 minutes and 32 seconds.
“(Copeland guarding Foster) should have been a good thing,” Haley said. “That put a guard guarding one of our post players and that gave us a mismatch, but we didn’t capitalize on that.”
With Foster bogged down offensively, Emilee Howard was White County’s leading scorer with seven points.
White County – the Warriorettes beat legendary Bradley coach Jim Smiddy in the last game of his brilliant 45-year coaching career in 1993; he retired as the nation’s winningest basketball coach at any level – quickly trimmed four points off the Bearettes’ 14-point lead starting the fourth quarter.
Amber Hudgens and Bella Taylor, two of three White County players with six points, scored field goals 14 seconds apart – a five-second inbounds call against Summars separated the scores.
That momentum was short-lived.
Bradley scored the next eight points – a field goal and two free throws by Copeland, two freebies by Reuter and two more by Summars – and built a 43-25 lead with 3:26 left.
Bearettes perimeter players took care of all but one of the team’s final nine points. Halle Hughes had two field goals, her only points of the game, Summars dropped in two free throws and Brown made two charity tosses down the stretch.
Hughes added six rebounds.
Brown and Reuter, who added four assists and two blocks, both fouled out.
White County also had two players foul out – Howard and Taylor.
Officials drew the ire of both coaches. Haley was seen yanking his sport coat off and flinging over the Warriorettes’ bench and Reuter had more than a few discussions with all three officials during the game.
“The game was called pretty tight,” Reuter said. “Some refs let you play. Sometimes you put a hand on someone and it’s a foul. On Becca’s third foul, the ref said her elbow went toward the face of a defender. My argument was she’s 6-2 and the player guarding her is 5-9. If she puts her arms up holding the ball, her elbow is going to be in the face of the defender.
“I don’t want refs to penalize my big girls because they’re big.”
White County 4 10 7 12 – 33
Bradley Central 11 6 18 17 – 52
White County (33) – Johnson, Jones, Taylor 6, H. Howard 2, Hudgens 6, Quillen 3, Cash, Foster 6, Emilee Howard 7, Roberts 2, Lewis 1.
Bradley Central (52) – Hughes 4, Davis, K. Brown, E.K. Brown 7, Gaither, Stallings, Brooke Copeland 20, Delane, Summars 6, Rebecca Reuter 15.
3-Point Goals – White County 3 (Foster, Howard), Bradley Central 1 (E.K. Brown).
Walker Valley (22-9) vs. Bradley Central (16-11), 7 p.m.
Cleveland (18-8) vs. Stone Memorial (25-6), 8:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Feb. 26, at Cookeville High
Bradley Central (24-5) vs. Cumberland County (28-4), 8 p.m. Eastern
Thursday, Feb. 26, at Cookeville High
Boys championship, 8 p.m.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)