CLEVELAND, Tenn. – Bradley Central is the state’s No. 2-ranked girls’ team, according to MaxPreps.
The Bearettes (29-0) is the District 5-3A tournament champion.
Visiting Warren County has a sub-.500 record and is the No. 4 team out of District 6-3A.
So, on Friday night at Jim Smiddy Arena, the Bearettes played the favorite’s role perfectly and humbled the Lady Pioneers, 87-22, in the Region 3-3A tournament opener and recorded their ninth straight “mercy-rule” victory since senior sensation Rhyne Howard was snubbed by the McDonald’s All-America team.
Howard scored a game-high 32 points, outscoring Warren County by double digits, and pushed her career scoring total to 2,401, sixth-best in program history. Brittany Jackson, at No. 5, is just 38 points ahead of Howard.
“We have to treat every team the same and not overlook anybody,” said Howard, who is averaging 22.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.5 steals per game. “We knew we could beat them and we put it on them hard.”
While Howard was doing her thing with scoring, she also hit 14 of 17 shots that included 3 of 5 from 3-point distance, got four rebounds, five assists and six steals, diminutive freshman Jamaryn Blair was solidifying herself as a superlative newcomer with 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting, and was 4 for 6 behind the 3-point line.
“It feels good to do this,” Blair said. “I wouldn’t be able to do it without hard work and putting in extra time in the gym.”
The 6-foot-1 Howard and diminutive 5-6 Blair were instrumental in Bradley shooting 58 percent from the field (35 of 60). The Bearettes, who have won 61 of their last 62 games and are 112-10 at home in eight seasons under coach Jason Reuter.
“She’s a sparkplug,” Reuter said. “She’s a little ace-in-the-hole. She’s like a jitterbug out there; she’s all over the place. She gets in the right spots and she’s quick. This girl can split traps; I don’t know if anybody has been able to trap her all year long. I don’t know if she’s going to grow any more, but she’s already a heck of a player.”
In other Region 3-3A action, East Hamilton’s Lady Hurricanes got 27 points from sophomore Madison Hayes and routed White County, 61-43, and set a program record with victory No. 25 against five losses. The Lady Canes won 24 games three times previously in 1015-16, 2012-13 and 2010-11.
Tournament plays shifts to Rhea County High School on Monday where the Bearettes will face the host Lady Golden Eagles at 6 p.m. Rhea County defeated Walker Valley, 74-69. Then, at 7:30 p.m., East Hamilton faces Stone Memorial, the 6-3A champion. Stone knocked off Cleveland, 61-47.
The boys’ take over the tournament spotlight on Saturday.
Cleveland, East Hamilton, Walker Valley and McMinn County will be trying to reach the semifinals, which also will be played at Rhea County. Cleveland and Walker Valley will be at home while East Hamilton and McMinn County will have to travel. All games start at 7 p.m. local time.
Bradley Central, the winningest team in TSSAA history, boys or girls, hit their first six shots and had a 14-4 lead before some fans got in their seats.
And, Blair had the first of three show-stopping buzzer beaters five minutes later. She made a steal near mid-court and raced past Lady Pioneer players for a layup with 0.1 seconds on the clock. That gave Bradley a 23-10 lead.
Blair did it again to end the second period. She missed a 3-point attempt from the left corner, Howard got the ball back and quickly fired pass to Blair in the same corner and she ripped the nets with her second try at the buzzer, giving Bradley a 50-13 halftime margin.
She wasn’t finished, either, breaking free from a pack and hitting a layup – again as the buzzer sounded – as the Bearettes, who went 11 for 21 from 3-point distance, built the lead to 75-17 going to the fourth period.
Howard was taken out of the game with 1:57 left in the third quarter.
Blair got her final points on her fourth 3-pointer with 6:33 remaining in the game and then watched the final minutes from the sideline.
“It’s definitely encouraging to see how Jamaryn is playing as a freshman because it makes this team deeper,” junior Kaleigh Hughes said. “And it’s good for our future starting next season. Everyone asks when Rhyne leaves what are we going to do. With Blair and some other players that will be with us we’ll still be a good basketball team.”
Reuter, now 5-1 against the Lady Pioneers (12-18), who lost nine of their last 10 games, will approach the rest of this season with renewed intensity that begins on Monday at Rhea County.
“We had (Warren County) outmanned at every position,” Reuter said. “There’s a reason we’re a No. 1 and they’re a No. 4 and it’s a huge advantage to be playing at home. That will be the last game like that this year. We’re going to Rhea County and playing in their gym and that will be a contest. We’ve got two days to get ready.”
East Hamilton 61, White County 43: If the Lady Hurricanes rebound and defend well, coach Hunter Gremore likes his chances of winning.
Well, East Hamilton started Friday’s game in that exact mode and gave White County a punch in the gut by leading 24-3 after one quarter. White County picked up its offense in the second half, but the outcome was never in doubt.
“It was a good win,” Gremore said. “We jumped on them early. Our identity is we’re at our best when we’re playing defense and rebounding. That’s what we did tonight.”
The win assured East Hamilton a spot in Monday’s region semifinals at Rhea County and it’s the team’s deepest push into the postseason since joining Class 3A in 2013-14. When the school was opened, the Lady Canes competed in Class 2A and twice reached the sectionals in 2010-11 and 2012-13.
“Not only were we playing defense and rebounding, we also were making shots and our intensity was out the roof. We were never threatened after getting the big lead. The girls were determined and you could see it. They were not going to lose this game.”
Hayes had 10 points and Eliziah Laboo added all six of her points in the pivotal first quarter.
Hayes also grabbed 12 rebounds and was credited with five steals and three assists.
After a lackluster second period, the Lady Canes came out with renewed vigor after halftime and pushed the lead to 52-26 heading into the final eight minutes of play.
Hayes scored 11 of the Lady Canes’ 20 points in the third period and East Hamilton coasted home for the win.
“Our biggest lead was like 29 points and we probably got a little complacent, and it’s hard not to do that sometimes,” Gremore said. “Now we’ll get ready for Stone Memorial and they are a physical team and we have to match that.
“It’s nice that we’re in the region semifinals and we’ve had some success, but the girls really want to keep this thing going.”
Kaiyanna Suttles and Carli Zeh each scored eight points for East Hamilton.
Gracie Dodgen led White County (13-19) with 14 points.
Warren County 10 3 4 5 – 22
Bradley Central 23 27 25 12 – 87
Warren County (22) – Mikkola 2, Wright 9, Rains 4, Patch, Young 3, Nowlin, Sherrel 2, Johnson 2, Vaughn, Pennington.
Bradley Central (87) – Hughes 8, Mayo 5, Rhyne Howard 32, Walker 6, Lombard 7, Williams 2, Roberts, Reuter, Jamaryn Blair 18, Barnes 2, Carman 2, Hullender 4, Muhonen 1.
3-Point Goals – Warren County 1 (Young 1), Bradley Central 11 (Blair 4, Howard 3, Hughes 2, Mayo 1, Lombard 1).
White County 3 10 13 17 – 43
East Hamilton 24 8 20 9 – 61
White County (43) – Quick 2, Gracie Dodgen 14, Parker, Green, Frazier 3, Johnson, Leftwich 6, Ka. Reeves 8, Turner, Ke. Reeves 4, Murray 3, Curtis, Matthews 1, Anderson 2
East Hamilton (61) – Lacy 3, D. Zeh 2, Suttles 8, Medley, Madison Hayes 27, Mc. Hayes 3, C. Zeh 8, Johnson 2, Petitt, Evans 2, Abernathy, Laboo 6.
3-Point Goals – White County 7 (Dodgen 4, Frazier 1, Ka. Reeves 1, Murray 1), East Hamilton 6 (Ma. Hayes 4, Mc. Hayes 1, C. Zeh 1).
(Contact Larry Fleming at email@example.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)