COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – With 4:13 left in regulation, Bradley Central was in trouble.
Senior post Rebecca Reuter had just picked up her fifth foul.
And after Cumberland County’s Alli Hyder dropped in a free throw – her only point of the game – the Lady Jets had a 61-54 lead.
“When Becca fouled out and we were down by seven points, all the money in this house was on Cumberland County winning,” Bradley Central coach Jason Reuter said. “But this bunch found a way to win. They had a will to win and came back and you can’t put a price on that.”
With half of its twin tower sitting on the bench, Bradley still had senior post Brooke Copeland, the school’s ninth-leading career scorer, and a few of her teammates.
Copeland started the comeback with two free throws and capped it with two more that sent the game into overtime.
Freshman Emma Kate Brown, who had a career-high 19 points, then hit a go-ahead layup and two insurance free throws in the final 26 seconds and the Bearettes beat Cumberland County, 76-72, on Wednesday for their fourth straight Region 3-AAA basketball tournament championship at Cookeville High School.
“This feels just amazing,” Brown said. “I knew if I could make those shots we could win this game. The best feeling in the world is that we’re going to play the Sectional game at home. We’re going to be ready to win that game and go to state.”
Bradley Central (25-5) moves on to host the Sectional game against Murfreesboro Oakland on Saturday at Jim Smiddy Arena in Cleveland. Oakland (26-6) lost to state-ranked Blackman, 41-33, in the Region 4-AAA title game at Siegel High in Murfreesboro.
The sectional game will tip off at 7 p.m. and the winner advances to the Class AAA state tournament at Middle Tennessee State University.
District 5-AAA champion Walker Valley (23-9) takes on District 6-AAA kingpin Stone Memorial (26-6) on Thursday for the Region 3-AAA boys’ championship.
Copeland led the Bearettes, who won their 15th consecutive game, with 26 points and 14 rebounds and was named the tournament MVP.
“When Becca went out, I said, ‘Girls, we’ve got this,’ ” said Copeland, who has 2,197 points with at least one more game left in her illustrious high school career. “I was trying to compose them. I said, ‘If we stay together, play as a team, we can pull out a win.’ ”
Copeland’s advice proved prophetic.
Reuter finished with 12 points – she now has 1,084 career points – and six rebounds before fouling out. Halle Hughes also had six rebounds and tossed in nine points in a strong effort.
Reuter and Brown were also named to the all-tournament team.
Gina Dick paced the Lady Jets (28-5) with a game-high 28 points. Makenzie Iles added 14 points and Destiny Carlton had 12.
Cumberland County, ranked No. 9 by coachT.com and sporting the state's top offense with 73.7 points per game, will hit the road for a Sectional matchup against Blackman (30-1), which is riding a 16-game winning streak and ranked No. 1 nationally by USA TODAY.
The game was a nip-and-tuck tussle from the start. Reuter scored four straight points and Copeland added four as the Bearettes closed the second quarter with a 10-2 run for a 35-29 halftime lead.
Cumberland County cut the margin to 36-34 in 61 seconds of the third period, but Bradley Central – the region champion six times since the 2000-01 season – went on an 8-4 run that produced a 44-38 lead
Dick, who scored 19 points in the second and third quarters, but none in the overtime, hit a 3 from the right wing and Iles made two free throws to pull the Lady Jets to within 44-43.
The Bearettes went chaotic over the final 3 minutes and 1 second of the quarter, committing five turnovers and getting off two shots and hitting one – Brown scored at the 1:20 mark.
Bradley, which had considerable difficulty all night against the Lady Jets’ full-court pressure, trailed 51-46 going into the fourth period.
“I wish I could explain what was going on against their pressure,” said Jason Reuter, now 3-0 against Cumberland County with all three games coming in the region tournament. “We handled it for a while and then we lost our composure with all the turnovers. But that’s what (Cumberland County) does. Give them a nod.”
The Lady Jets maintained their momentum well into the final quarter.
Bradley’s Lyndsy Davis, a senior, hit a layup that pulled the Bearettes to within 58-54 with 5:15 left in regulation. Dick made a layup and Alli Hyder’s free throw, her only point in the game, came after Reuter fouled out at the 4:13 mark and the Lady Jets had a 61-54 advantage.
Bradley was worried.
Cumberland County, which has finished as the region runner-up six times since the 2000-01 season -- was about to bust out in celebration.
In just 48 seconds, though, Copeland and Davis each hit two free throws and the Bearettes trailed 61-58. Carlton countered for the Lady Jets, who then had a 63-58 lead.
Davis drove for a layup. Brown scored to tie the game at 63-all.
Dick made two free throws to give Cumberland County a 65-63 lead.
After the Lady Jets gained possession on a jump ball, they went into a spread offense and started running time off the clock.
“When they pulled it out and held the ball, we tried to get after them without fouling,” coach Reuter said. “We did a pretty good job with that.”
Dick missed a one-and-one opportunity with 57.5 seconds left. Copeland rebounded the miss and was fouled at the other end. She dropped in both tosses to tie the game at 65-65 with 46.7 seconds left.
The Lady Jets got off a couple of shots underneath the goal, but the buzzer sounded before a tip-in went in.
Copeland scored on a putback and Halle Hughes hit one of two free throws, pushing Bradley Central ahead, 68-65.
After a Chelsie Summars turnover, Iles’ 3 from the right wing tied the game at 68-68 with 2:01 left in the overtime period.
Copeland sank two free throws.
Carlton bounced a dribble off her foot and out of bounds. Davis fired an errant pass and Carlton hit two free throws, tying the game at 70-70.
With the Lady Jets doubling their defensive effort against Copeland, Hughes drove the lane for a layup and a 72-70 Bradley lead. Victoria Lee, who hadn’t scored since the first quarter, dropped a shot in from the lane. Game tied – again – with 36.2 seconds on the clock.
Then Brown, a 5-foot-10-inch freshman, came up big in the finest moment of her young career.
On a feed from Copeland, she hit a mildly contested layup with 26.1 seconds showing. Iles bounced the ball off her foot and out of bounds and she fouled Brown with 11.3 seconds on the clock.
Brown calmly made both to seal the win.
Reuter heaped praise on Brown.
“When the cheese was on the cracker, E.K. came through tonight,” he said. “She’s a 90 percent free-throw shooter and she made both of them. She has ice water in her veins. Her dad’s a coach so you know where she spends a lot of time – in the gym.
“And Halle Hughes came through for us, too. She’s quick as a deer and made some big shots.”
Said Copeland of Brown, “She really did step up for us. I told her to play like a big girl, that she’s not a freshman anymore. She has real potential to be an impact player at Bradley.”
The Bearettes made 27 of 32 free throws for 76 percent, and Copeland went 12 of 15 from the stripe. The other Bradley players that went to the line were a combined 15 of 17.
Bradley was 24 of 41 from the floor for 56 percent, but just 1 of 6 from 3-point distance – Brown, wouldn’t you know it, hit the team’s only 3-pointer.
Cumberland County was 18 of 37 on twos and 8 of 12 from 3-point land and Dick canned three.
Bradley out-rebounded the Lady Jets, 31-23.
“We’ve faced this team (Bradley) three times and every time I wanted to face them again,” Cumberland County coach Radhika Miller said. “I think we gave Bradley Central a game they weren’t expecting and I’m so proud of my girls for their effort tonight.”
Bradley Central 19 16 11 19 11 – 76
Cumberland County 17 15 22 14 7 – 72
Bradley Central (76) – Hughes 9, Davis 6, K. Brown, Emma Kate Brown 19, Stallings, Brooke Copeland 26, Summars 4, Rebecca Reuter 12.
Home (72) – Makenzie Iles 14, Gina Dick 28, Hyder 1, Destiny Carlton 12, Lee 4, Teeple 9, Eldridge, Smith 6.
3-Point Goals – Bradley Central 1 (E.K. Brown), Cumberland County 8 (Dick 3, Iles 2, Carlton 2, Teeple).
Brooke Copeland, Bradley Central (MVP)
Rebecca Reuter, Bradley Central
Emma Kate Brown, Bradley Central
Gina Dick, Cumberland County
Makenzie Iles, Cumberland County
Destiny Carlton, Cumberland County
Bella Taylor, White County
Amber Hudgens, White County
KeKe Smith, McMinn County
Rachel Burke, McMinn County
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)