CLEVELAND, Tenn. – Bradley Central’s Rebecca Reuter IS going to play in the 2014 Class AAA state basketball tournament.
The 6-foot-3-inch senior post made sure of that by hitting a game-winning 8-foot bank shot with 4.6 seconds left to beat highly regarded Oakland, 37-36, in the Sectionals before a large and boisterous crowd at Jim Smiddy Arena on Saturday night.
Reuter, who will play collegiately at Middle Tennessee State University, site of the TSSAA state tournament, missed the Bearettes’ one-game state appearance last season after picking up two technical fouls and drawing an ejection in a 55-46 home-court Sectional win over Blackman. She had to sit out the state tourney game and opener this season.
“I don’t want to say I was deserving of this, but I think I got cheap-shotted last year so it's very fulfilling that I could make that last shot,” said Reuter, who finished with nine points and eight rebounds, all on the defensive side.
“I knew down the stretch that Brooke and I were going to try and pass it to each other,” Reuter added. “When I saw the chance to score I had to take the shot. That’s the biggest shot of my career and now we’re going to Murfreesboro and I’ll get to play on my future court and I’m excited about that.”
Bradley coach Jason Reuter, Rebecca’s father, appealed the technicals and ejection to the TSSAA last March, but to no avail. So, one half of the Bearettes’ Twin Towers – Brooke Copeland being the other half – watched Bradley Central fall, 64-37, to powerhouse Science Hill of Johnson City in the opening round of last year’s state tourney.
Next week she’ll be in uniform.
The state tournament draw will be held Sunday in Murfreesboro at 3 p.m. Eastern to determine first-round matchups.
“A lot of people didn’t give us credit and were talking Murfreesboro, Murfreesboro, Murfreesboro,” said Jason Reuter, whose Bearettes have a 26-5 record and a 16-game winning streak. “Those teams are great up there, but we play a little basketball down in Bradley County, too.”
Blackman is ranked No. 1 nationally by USA TODAY and maxPreps.com. Oakland is among the top 10 teams in the state this season and lost four times to Blackman, including a 41-33 decision in the Region 4-AAA title game on Wednesday.
Bradley Central, 4-1 against the Lady Patriots – two meetings have been in the Sectional round – since 1993 when the legendary Smiddy retired as the nation’s winningest girls coach at any level, is ranked 26th in the state by maxPreps.
“In the last two years, we beat their second-best team,” Reuter said. “I won’t argue with anyone that in my five years coaching girls’ basketball that District 7-AAA is the toughest district in the state. I’m just saying the history in this gym and this school was known across the Southeast long before this old boy took over at Bradley. This basketball program is a good one.”
In the four years Rebecca Reuter and Copeland have been with the varsity team, the Bearettes are 114-16 (89.9 percent) and, ironically, that’s coach Reuter’s four-year record as well.
The hard-fought game was tight for three quarters, but the Lady Patriots broke a 28-28 tie on Emily Eubank’s quick five points – a basket and 3-pointer – to open the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately, that was Oakland’s final basket of the game.
Bradley freshman Emma Kate Brown drilled a 3 from the right wing and the Bearettes were within 33-31 with 6:19 left.
Six-foot-2 sophomore post Shelby Gibson, whose nose was bloodied in the first quarter, hit one of two free throws with 6:02 left. Oakland senior Kiara Howse missed two free throws 10 seconds later – that was a disturbing trend for the Lady Patriots.
Reuter made a left-handed shot that bounced twice on the rim and fell through, slicing Oakland’s lead to 34-33.
Gibson countered with two free throws to extend the lead to 36-33, but the Lady Patriots failed to score in the final 3:35.
That allowed an opening for the Bearettes, who won the Region 3-AAA championship on Wednesday when Brown hit two field goals in the final 26.1 seconds of overtime to beat Cumberland County, 76-72.
“Things aren’t always going to be in your favor,” coach Reuter said. “We didn’t give up. If we flinch one second we would not have won this game. And we didn’t flinch against Cumberland. So, we’re dancing.”
Oakland pulled the ball out to milk the clock.
“We were in position to win it,” Lady Patriots coach Jennifer Grandstaff said. “But we weren’t able to finish the game. That’s very disappointing. We did everything we needed to do, but just came up short by not making some big free throws.”
Oakland’s errant free throws were huge.
After the two teams swapped turnovers and Oakland’s Kaitlin Oliver was off on an open lane jumper, Lady Patriots sophomore guard Ansley Eubank drew a two-shot foul by Bradley senior Lyndsy Davis with 27.5 seconds left in the game.
Eubank missed both attempts.
Copeland, under pressure down low, was fouled with 13.7 seconds showing and made both tries, pulling the Bearettes to within 36-35.
Bradley called a timeout.
“We wanted to trap in the corner as soon as they threw the ball in and foul whoever got it,” coach Reuter said. “They got it to double-zero (Eubank) and we fouled.”
The Lady Patriots (26-7) worked only 1.5 seconds off the clock before freshman Halle Hughes fouled Eubank, setting up a one a one-and-one opportunity.
Eubank missed the mark on her first attempt and Bradley controlled the rebound.
“The foul shooting was the difference in the game,” Reuter said. “They missed them and we didn’t.”
Oakland was 4 of 16 (25 percent) from the stripe.
Bradley, the highest percentage free-throw shooting team Reuter has ever played on or coached (approximately 75 percent), went 12 of 15 (80 percent) at the line.
The Bearettes methodically worked the ball around the perimeter, and then into Copeland, the University of Florida signee who scored 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, now has 2,211 career points, ninth-best total in Bearettes history.
Instead of shooting a shot while double-teamed, Copeland fed Reuter breaking toward the goal on the right side. Reuter banked her clutch shot off the glass and into the net with less than five seconds left.
Bradley was jubilant. Oakland was in trouble.
“If they had made their last two free throws, we’re down three but still have a chance,” Reuter said. “We wanted to run a play called T-5. We wanted someone to take a 3-pointer. But down by two, I had nothing called because we’re in a freelance situation there.
“What you saw was two girls that have played together four years that know each other – it’s like the left hand and right hand – and Brooke knew her teammate would be there waiting. That’s all it was, years of working together and they leaned on each other right there.”
Said Copeland, “Becca was open and I know she can score on just about anybody she wants to, so I got her the ball and she did. I was going to get the rebound if she missed. Nobody was getting that rebound, but me. I don’t care if it was my fifth foul (she was playing with four fouls) or not, I was going to get it.”
It was a sobering moment for Grandstaff.
“We went man-up because we didn’t want to leave an uncontested shooter out there,” she said of Bradley’s game-winning possession. “We trapped and used pressure most of the game. But their bigs (Copeland and Reuter) are great players and great players make big shots at the end of the game, and she sure made one tonight.”
There was still work to do.
The Lady Patriots called timeout with four seconds to go.
Once the teams were set up on the floor, Jason Reuter surveyed the court and called his last timeout.
Oakland got the ball into front court and Emily Eubank, Ansley’s sister, got off a 3-point shot that hit the back and front of the rim before bouncing away as time expired.
“It was not Mona Lisa out there,” coach Reuter said. “This game will not go down as one of the greatest in Bearette history. It will go down as another trip to the state tournament – back-to-back trips.”
Brown, the heroine in Bradley’s 76-72 overtime win over Cumberland County in the Region 3-AAA championship game on Wednesday in Cookeville, scored 12 points for the Bearettes, including the clutch fourth-quarter 3.
Emily Eubank was the only Lady Patriots player in double figures, finishing with 14 points.
Oakland 10 5 13 8 – 36
Bradley Central 8 10 10 9 – 37
Oakland (36) – A. Eubank 3, Howse 6, Emily Eubank 14, Eaglen, Oliver 2, Gibson 9, Patterson 2.
Bradley Central (37) – Hughes 2, Davis, Emma Kate Brown 12, Stallings, Brooke Copeland 14, Summars, Reuter 9.
3-Point Goals – Oakland 2 (E. Eubank, A. Eubank), Bradley Central 3 (E.K. Brown 2, Reuter).
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)