CLEVELAND, Tenn. – McMinn County’s Lady Cherokees on Friday envisioned pulling off a colossal upset against the third-ranked Bradley Central Bearettes.
The odds were stacked against McMinn, primarily because the Bearettes had beaten them 29 straight times dating to Feb. 9, 2007, when McMinn pulled out a 54-49 win in Athens. Bradley also came into the game at Jim Smiddy Arena riding a 60-game winning streak against District 5-3A opponents.
Bradley had lost just twice, both to out-of-state opponents – one from Georgia and the other from Colorado. The Bearettes were riding a six-game winning streak. The Lady Cherokees had played poorly in their last three games and “just awful” in two of them, coach Tim McPhail said.
But the Lady Cherokees took a 44-43 lead on Kaitlynn Hennessee’s layup with 3:54 remaining and McPhail was thinking good thoughts.
“I’m sitting there thinking this could be the night,” McPhail said.
What was Bradley coach Jason Reuter mulling over in his mind at the same time.
“I’m thinking we’re going to win the ballgame,” he said.
The difference in the hard-fought game came down one player – sophomore point guard Jamaryn Blair – who missed most of the second quarter and the entire third period after picking up her third and fourth fouls – the latter being a technical – on the same play.
Blair came off the bench and scored 10 fourth-quarter points, including eighth in the game-changing 12-0 spurt that sent the Bearettes to a 56-47 win and the Lady Cherokees (15-7, 3-4) home wondering what could have been.
Bradley (19-2, 7-0) snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with a nail-biting as Blair redeemed herself for the early transgression and walked off the floor having turned in a sterling late-game performance.
“(The four fouls) didn’t take away my aggression, but I had to play smarter than I did earlier in the game,” she said. “I just had one foul to give and I played hard and stood my ground.”
Bradley coach Jason Reuter, who is 24-0 against McMinn County and now 115-5 against district opponents, said Blair, who had 12 points and five rebounds in 12-plus minutes, probably felt “indebted” to her teammates re-entering the game with just under four minutes left.
“She felt responsible for the situation we were in,” the coach said. “She made a very bad mistake by fouling and then saying something to the referee. I was prepared to handle her third foul. What I wasn’t prepared for was something coming from out of left field like a meteorite.”
Blair’s flare-up came as Hennessee dropped in a layup. She missed the ensuing free throw. Ashley Baxter, who had a team-high 16 points, made both technical free throws – and Blair went to the bench. Baxter drained a 3 from the right corner for a 15-11 advantage. Bradley scored nine straight points and eventually went into halftime with a 24-21 lead.
Junior Amelia Reuter, coach Reuter’s daughter, banked in a 16-foot shot at the third quarter buzzer to give the Bearettes a 36-31 cushion.
Hennessee opened the fourth with a 3 – McMinn went 7-for-14 behind the arc – and less than a minute later was errant with two free throws. With the clock stopped, Blair returned to the game. McMinn’s Whitney Green dropped a short bank shot, Blair answered with a reverse layup and the Bearettes had a 38-36 lead.
Baxter and Bradley’s Kaleigh Hughes swapped 3s and Baxter hit another 3. Bradley’s Alexis Barnes, who finished with 10 points, made a layup with Hennessee answering with one of her own for the 44-43 margin.
The Bearettes basically turned the game into a free-throw shooting contest during the decisive 12-point spurt.
Blair made two and followed with a layup. Blair missed two charity tosses. Bradley’s Anna Walker, who had another double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds, hit two from the stripe.
Twenty-eight seconds later, McMinn fouled Blair and the Lady Cherokees’ bench was hit with a technical foul. Blair made two more, Walker added a pair and Blair finished the run with two more free throws. The Bearettes went 16 for 50 (32 percent) from the field, but 22 for 32 (68.8 percent) at the free-throw line.
“Jamaryn came in and played a whale of a fourth quarter,” Reuter said. “I waited until 6:09 was left to put her back in. If we had stretched the lead out, I wouldn’t have put her back in the game. You’ve got ammunition sitting over there and somebody says, ‘Well, she could foul out? I was thinking, ‘Well, she’s doing us no good sitting over here. We had visions of what she did back in in the second quarter, but I didn’t think she would pop off to the referee again later in the game.
“Obviously, we made the right decision as a staff. Momentum has shifted to McMinn’s way. But Jamaryn made the difference in the game and hit some clutch free throws. We won by nine points, but one of two bad plays during that crunch time and the game could have turned the other way. A nine-point win could have been a three-point loss; these girls took someone’s best punch and kept some streaks alive (30 straight wins against McMinn and 61 in a row against all district opponents.) They found a way to win.”
Bradley Central boys 62, McMinn County 57: On a night when two former Bears were inducted into the program’s Hall of Fame, Bradley Central (11-6, 4-3) got a 21-point effort on 6-of-13 shooting from freshman Quante Berry and 10 from sophomore Tray Curry to hold off the Cherokees (6-10, 1-6).
Berry scored 13 points in the second half.
Tyler Peel led the Cherokees with 18 points.
Justin Hare and Kellen Pickel, who played together for three years at Bradley Central, were to two ex-players inducted into the hall of fame between games.
They helped the Bears to a 100-11 record from 2001-04 and reached the state tournament all three seasons.
Under coach Kent Smith, Hare was a three-time member of all-district and all-region teams and earned all-state honors his junior and senior years. Additionally, he was nominated for the Mr. Basketball award his senior year. He finished as the Bears’ third-leading all-time scorer with 2,018 points.
Hare scored 1,761 points and became the No. 2 all-time scorer at Belmont University. He was selected the Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year and twice earned all-conference honors. He now practices medicine in Dalton and Calhoun, Georgia.
Pickel also earned three all-district and all-region honors with the Bears, was the district tournament MVP as a junior and was a two-time all-stater. He played basketball, baseball and football.
He is the 10th all-time scorer in basketball at Bradley with 1,454 points and went on to play at Lee University, where he scored 1,500 points.
Pickel and his sister, Jackie, are considered one of the best brother-sister duos in school history. He still resides in Cleveland and is employed at Volunteer Rid a Pest.
McMinn County 7 14 10 16 – 47
Bradley Central 10 14 12 20 – 56
McMinn County (47) – Burns 3, Kaitlynn Hennessee 15, Green 7, Schiestel, Ashley Baxter 16, Manning 6, Dankworth, Smith.
Bradley Central (56) – Hughes 5, Roberts, Jamaryn Blair 12, Anna Walker 16, Lombard 2, Mayo 7, Williams 2, Alexis Barnes 10, Reuter 2.
3-Point Goals – McMinn County 7 (Baxter 3, Hennessee 2, Burns 1, Green 1), Bradley Central 2 (Hughes 1, Mayo 1).
McMinn County 9 13 16 18 – 57
Bradley Central 16 14 16 16 – 62
McMinn County (57) – Daniel 4, Sharp 2, Brown 5, Wilson 1, Runyon 8, McClure, Ellis 8, Torbett, Tyler Peel 18, Beavers 3, Buckner.
Bradley Central (62) – Boyd 6, Clark 4, Tray Curry 10, Whaley, Ferguson 2, Wesley 4, Rothwell 9, Greene 1, McCleary 3, McClary 2, Smith, Davis, Quante Berry 21.
3-Point Goals – McMinn County 4 (Ellis 2, Runyon 1, Beavers 1), Bradley Central 3 (Boyd 2, Berry 1).
(Contact Larry Fleming at email@example.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)