Cleveland’s young basketball star, sophomore Grant Hurst, drove himself to Monday's basketball game against rival Bradley Central in a 2015 Ford F-150 pickup truck.
Despite drizzling rain and a temperature around 50 as soon as the slender-built Blue Raider slammed the truck door shut, he probably felt heat coming off his hands.
And he stayed hot.
Hurst poured in a game-high 28 points, seven shy of his career high against McMinn County, and lit a fire under the Blue Raiders by hitting five 3-pointers in a span of six Cleveland shots in a 71-60 District 5-3A victory at Jim Smiddy Arena.
In the earlier girls’ game, Bradley Central defeated the Lady Blue Raiders, 55-36, and finished its fourth straight 12-0 regular season in district play.
“That’s a big deal for us, especially the seniors,” said junior Anna Walker, who had 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting – she was 2-of-3 on 3-pointers – and seven rebounds for the Bearettes (25-3 overall). “We’re going to have a lot of confidence going into the tournament and we want to do well and host the region.”
The Bearettes have now won 66 consecutive games against league opponents and lead the series with Cleveland, 104-37. Their home winning streak is now 30, with the last loss a 55-49 setback against Stewart’s Creek in the 2017 sectional.
Madison Dasher and Joy Douglass each scored eight points for the Lady Blue Raiders (15-13, 9-3).
The Blue Raiders (23-4, 10-2) led 7-4 when Hurst turned up the heat, making three straight 3s before JaCobi Wood joined in the scoring. Hurst then knocked down two more 3s and Cleveland had a 24-10 first-quarter lead.
“I get a good feeling when I make one or two,” Hurst said, “and then every time I touch the ball, I let it fly. With confidence tonight, I kept shooting and shooting and didn’t miss many.”
Hurst, an all-district performer, hit another 3 in the second period and finished with six of Cleveland’s nine 3-pointers in its sixth straight win over the Bears (16-9, 6-6). He failed to score over the next 12 minutes but hit a free throw less than a minute into the final quarter, breaking the dry spell.
With the Blue Raiders up 59-46, Hurst scored 10 of the team’s final 12 points.
“Grant puts a ton of work into what he does,” said Cleveland’s Jason McCowan, the District 5-3A Coach of the Year who is 16-14 against Bradley. “He’s a 6 a.m. kid that gets in the gym for a lot of extra shots and it shows. It’s tough to do what he did on the road in front of their student section. This is a hard place to play, but he’s a tough kid.”
After Hurst’s baseline jumper started his final scoring burst to put the lead at 61-48, JaCobi Wood exited the game with his fifth foul. Even more pressure was on Hurst to bring the win home. Wood and Johnson are all-district players as well.
“I had way too many assistant coaches with me over there,” McCowan said.
Ashton Boyd made back-to-back 3s on the right wing and the Bears were within 61-54 with 3:33 remaining. Hurst missed two free throws and Mason Rothwell hit 1 of 2 and Hurst ripped the nets for a field goal for a 10-point margin. Saylor Clark hit his only 3 of the game and the Bears’ deficit was 64-57.
Hurst dropped in 3 of 4 free throws and Clark banked in a short shot high off the glass. Hurst connected on a layup and one charity toss and Rothwell hit a free throw before Michael Dale’s free throw produced the final score.
“At the half they had hit 8 of 11 3s and they were smoking,” Bradley coach Chuck Clark said. “We said at the half nobody is going to keep hitting them at that pace. I saw “Pistol” Pete (Maravich, former LSU great) play and he could fill it up. (Hurst) is not Pistol Pete, but he can really shoot the ball. He got hot and excited because they were kicking the ball out of the paint and getting him some wide-open looks.”
While Hurst blistered the Blue Raiders early, his steady play factored into the outcome late when Cleveland was trying to mount a comeback.
“With Isaiah and JaCobi fouled out, I just tried to get the ball in my hands and take control and lead the team to the victory.”
Johnson finished with 12 points and Wood added 11.
Cleveland goes into the tournament riding a 15-game winning streak and Hurst believes the team be hard to beat in the tournament.
“We’re a streaky team than can play really well in spurts,” he said. “When we’re on nobody in the state can handle us, and I truly believe that. When things aren’t going our way, we have to battle through adversity and keep pushing.”
McCowan was still thinking about getting out of the arena with the win.
“(Bradley) wasn’t going to stop coming at us,” he said. “I’ve been in too many of these games. I told Kent Smith (former Bears coach) and Chuck (Clark) I don’t know what a comfortable lead would be on the road in a rivalry game.”
Cleveland will be the No. 2 seed in the tournament and East Hamilton, the regular-season champion, is the No. 1 seed. The Cleveland win settled the last three seeded spots. Walker Valley is No. 3, Ooltewah No. 4 and Bradley No. 5.
Back to the Bearettes.
Bradley closed the first quarter with a 9-2 run and had a 10-point lead. The Bearettes’ lead was still nine at halftime.
Cleveland got field goals by Bailey Anderson and Mariyah Person and two Joy Douglass free throws to trim its deficit to 26-21 early in the third period.
Bradley went on a 14-2 run – Walker had five points – and the Bearettes pushed the lead to 40-23 after three quarters.
Cleveland, playing physical and trying to force the Bearettes out of their usual offense, outscored Bradley, 10-3, starting the fourth quarter and was within 43-33.
Bradley’s lead was 45-34 with just over three minutes to play and scored 10-0 for a 55-34 advantage. Cleveland’s Brenna Droke hit a layup at the final buzzer.
“When they got physical, our emotions kicked in and we weren’t going to let them push us around,” Walker said. “And when Cleveland cut our lead to seven points, we showed that we wanted to win more than they did and that was a big factor.”
The Bearettes are the No. 1 seed with Cleveland at No. 2. East Hamilton, McMinn County and Ooltewah round out the top five.
Cleveland 8 7 8 13 – 36
Bradley Central 18 6 16 15 – 55
Cleveland (36) – Person 5, Madison Dasher 8, Williams 3, Joy Douglass 8, Anderson 6, Droke 4, Goodman 2, Alvarado, Jackson, Rouse, Rominger.
Bradley Central (55) – Hughes 5, Roberts 2, Jamaryn Blair 11, Anna Walker 18, Lombard 3, Mayo 5, Barnes 9, Reuter 1, Williams 1, Crittenden, Estrada, Hullender, Falcon.
3-Point Goals – Cleveland 3 (Dasher 2, Williams 1), Bradley Central 4 (Walker 2, Mayo 1, Hughes 1).
Cleveland 24 16 12 19 – 71
Bradley Central 10 14 17 19 – 60
Cleveland (71) – Dale 6, Isaiah Johnson 12, Howard 5, JaCobi Wood 11, Grant Hurst 28, Colbaugh, McGowan 6, Armstrong, Hall, Williams 3.
Bradley Central (60) – Boyd 6, Saylor Clark 10, Tray Curry 10, Ferguson 8, Wesley 2, Mason Rothwell 10, Greene, McCleary 2, Quante Berry 12.
3-Point Goals – Cleveland 9 (Hurst 6, Johnson 2, McGowan 1), Bradley Central 2 (Boyd 2).
District 5-3A Tournament
At Soddy-Daisy High School
Soddy-Daisy girls vs. Walker Valley, 6 p.m.
Soddy-Daisy boys vs. McMinn County, 7:30 p.m.
Soddy-Daisy-Walker Valley girls winner vs. East Hamilton, 6 p.m.
Soddy-Daisy-McMinn County boys winner vs. Walker Valley, 7:30 p.m.
(Contact Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @larryfleming44)