CHARLESTON, Tenn. – If there was any doubt who the queens of the district were coming into the District 5-3A tournament, Bradley Central put those to rest early in Monday night’s title game.
The Bearettes went on a 20-point run in the first half and led 38-7 at halftime, as they destroyed East Hamilton by a final score of 68-43 Tuesday night at Walker Valley High School. Anna Walker – who was named tournament MVP – drilled five 3-pointers on her way to a team-high 24 points and seven rebounds, while Anna Muhonen scored 16 with eight boards.
Reigning Class 3A champion Bradley Central will host Cookeville (19-10) on Friday night in the first round of the Region 3 tournament, while East Hamilton will host Stone Memorial (26-3), who was upset by White County in their tournament semifinals despite going 8-0 in regular season district play.
Both games will be at 7 p.m.
“This never gets old,” said Bearettes coach Jason Reuter. “I’ve been blessed to have a lot of great assistant coaches and great players, and I’m just super proud of my girls. This plaque will go on the wall with many others. This was one of our goals this year, to win a district championship, and now it’s on to the region (tournament).”
The Bearettes (25-4) wasted no time getting on the scoreboard as they made their first three shots: back-to-back 3-pointers from Jamia Williams and Cambree Mayo followed by a baseline jumper from Alexis Barnes.
East Hamilton’s Madison Hayes – the reigning Class 3A Miss Basketball and finalist for the same award this season – finally got the Lady Hurricanes (19-12) on the board with a triple at the 5:20 mark, but she picked up her second foul of the game on the next defensive possession. A put-back by Barnes and a bucket from East Hamilton’s Elizia LaBoo made the score 10-5 in favor of Bradley Central midway through the quarter.
That’s when the Bearettes put their collective feet on the gas and never looked back. Walker hit her first trey of the game from the left wing, followed by a jumper from the free-throw line by Muhonen. They each scored a bucket in the paint in the final minute to give their team a commanding 19-5 lead after a quarter.
“I think the way we’ve been sharing the ball recently has been really helpful, and having Alexis (Barnes) and Anna (Muhonen) down low helps a lot,” said Walker. “I think that winning ten in a row is a big deal, and it was real confidence booster for us going into tonight. I know the four of us seniors didn’t want to be the ones to mess it up. It feels really good to win like we did tonight in a game like this.”
In a worst-case scenario for the Lady Hurricanes, Laboo picked up her third foul less than a minute into the second quarter. Seconds later, Hayes went for a block from behind down low and was whistled for her third as well. With a McDonald’s All-American in Hayes and East Hamilton’s best post player in LaBoo on the bench, the Lady Hurricanes were held without a field goal the entire period.
Meanwhile, the Bearettes took full advantage of the situation. A 3-point play the old-fashioned way by Barnes was followed by 3-pointers from Walker and Kelsey Carman. A fast-break lay-up by Walker gave Bradley Central 20 straight points and a 30-5 lead.
Two more 3-point plays by Muhonen in the final 1:30 gave the Bearettes a 31-point halftime advantage, leaving almost everyone in the gym in a state of shock.
“They just whooped our tales tonight; there’s nothing else you can say but to give them all the credit,” said East Hamilton coach Hunter Gremore. “I was very disappointed with how we started. We came out very unfocused and I didn’t prepare them well enough. We got out-played and out-coached. They knocked down shots and defended us well.”
“The second half we fought, but you can’t fall behind ten to them, much less 30. I told them (at halftime) that we have to carry over the second half to Friday because that’s going to be a tough game, too.”
Walker made sure there would be no miraculous second-half comeback. The UTC commit knocked down a 3-pointer from the left wing early in the period, and then closed out the Bearettes’ scoring with another from the top of the key as she scored 11 in the quarter.
“At first, I’m not going to lie, it was a little rough just because I hadn’t played that position at all,” Walker said about her mid-season transition to playing predominantly on the wing. “But now, since I’ve had a few games under my belt, I feel like it has helped me prepare for tournament time and games like this where faster girls are going to guard me.”
Well-rested, Hayes did all she could in the second half to help the Lady Hurricanes put up a fight, scoring 14 points in each of the final two quarters to finish with a game-high 31. She also pulled down ten rebounds for a double-double.
While the decorated senior would certainly trade team victories for individual achievements, she did hit a significant milestone early in the third quarter. A basket just under two minutes into the period gave Hayes 3,000 points for her career, placing her in rare air on a list with nine other girls’ players in the history of Tennessee high school basketball.
With her final point total, Hayes now has 3,026 career points, which makes her ninth all-time. That number also gives her the third highest total since TSSAA girls’ basketball went to 5-on-5. Girls’ high school basketball in Tennessee played 6-on-6 up until the 1980 season, with just three players on each team allowed on each end of the floor.
But the night, and the past decade for that matter, belonged to Bradley Central. While the team shot just over 45 percent from the field, a number Reuter admitted “wasn’t blistering,” they did make 10-of-25 from behind the arc, dished out 22 assists – led by Williams with nine, and only turned the ball over ten times.
“We’ve been in situations like this before, usually just not in a district championship,” Reuter said. “Everything just went our way tonight. We weren’t shooting lights out or anything, but we made the easy shots and played well against their zone, and then their star player got in foul trouble.”
“We’ll celebrate tonight, and then we’ll get back to work tomorrow.”
EAST HAMILTON 5 2 19 17 -- 43
BRADLEY CENTRAL 19 19 21 9 -- 68
BRADLEY CENTRAL (68) – Anna Walker 24, Anna Muhonen 16, Barnes 9, Williams 7, Mayo 3, Carman 3, Carpenter 3, Reuter 2, Crittenden 1, Weber, Estrada, Jones, Miles, Ledford.
EAST HAMILTON (43) – Madison Hayes 31, Evans 3, LaBoo 3, Lacy 2, Strickland 2, Bone 2, Mc. Hayes, Petitt, Copeland, Sue.
3-POINT GOALS: East Hamilton 4 (Ma. Hayes 3, Evans); Bradley Central 10 (Walker 5, Williams 2, Mayo, Carman, Carpenter).
RECORDS: Bradley Central 25-4; East Hamilton 19-12.
MCMINN COUNTY 8 19 13 10 -- 50
CLEVELAND 15 18 13 14 -- 60
MCMINN COUNTY (50) – Whitney Green 24, Peytyn Oliver 11, Mack 6, Baxter 5, Manney 4, Dankworth, Smith, Hansford.
CLEVELAND (60) – Megan Rouse 14, Bailey Anderson 11, Mariyah Person 10, Jadyn Chestnutt 10, Jackson 8, K. Williams 5, Alvarado 2, Hurst, Moody, M. Williams, Tanner, Moore.
3-POINT GOALS: McMinn County 6 (Oliver 3, Green 2, Baxter); Cleveland 6 (Rouse 4, Person, K. Williams).
RECORDS: Cleveland 20-11; McMinn County 13-15.
(Email Kevin Llewallyn at firstname.lastname@example.org)