Staff photo by Angela Lewis/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Cleveland's Atarah Abdullah-Muhammad keeps the ball from Bradley Central's Emily McCracken in their District 5-AAA game Monday at Rhea County High School.
EVENSVILLE, Tenn.—Bradley Central had three post players capable of taking away any penetration by Cleveland in Monday's District 5-AAA girls' championship game. The Bearettes also had one player—Kayla Beavers—who could hurt the Lady Raiders from outside.
Beavers hit four 3-point baskets and tied for team honors with 12 points in Bradley's 43-35 victory Monday at Rhea County High School. The Bearettes outscored Cleveland 13-3 in a crucial fourth-quarter stretch to win their first district championship since 2009.
Both teams will host Region 3-AAA first-round games Thursday, with Bradley taking on Cookeville and the Lady Raiders facing White County. The tournament will move back to Rhea County on Saturday for semifinal action, with games starting at 3 p.m.
The Bearettes' ball movement was crucial to their offensive success Monday, as they had 13 assists on 17 made field goals. Working from the middle, Bradley was able to get the ball outside to Beavers, who had three of her four 3 in the first quarter.
"I didn't expect to be open so much," she said. "My teammates did a good job of passing the ball, and I was able to get some open looks."
Caroline Smith was the other beneficiary, working the middle of Cleveland's zone for shots from the top of the key. She also had 12 points.
Defensively, the Bearettes packed into a zone that caused the Lady Raiders to shoot from the outside, whereas they prefer to attack the basket. The Lady Raiders hoisted 22 3-pointers and connected on five, as Bradley's Brooke Copeland, Rebecca Reuter and Monica Hammond controlled the paint—especially in the fourth quarter.
The Lady Raiders' final made 3, by freshman Norah Berry, tied the game at 30 early in the fourth quarter, but they managed only three free throws by Qetuwrah Abdullah-Muhammad until she scored on a putback in the final seconds.
"We just hit a three- or four-minute stretch in the fourth quarter in which we couldn't get shots to fall," Cleveland coach Rachel Moore said.
Bradley was able to pull away with its ability to hit some shots in the final eight minutes. Copeland and Smith scored inside and Beavers had the dagger, a 3-pointer with 1:27 to go that stretched the lead to 41-33.
"It's tournament time. The game is just played different," Bradley coach Jason Reuter said. "It was a low-scoring game, but we were able to find a way to win. The kids hit some timely shots, and our offensive rebounding was the difference."
Bradley finished with 14 offensive rebounds. Copeland had a double-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks. Abdullah-Muhammad had 13 points and Berry added 11 for Cleveland.
Walker Valley never trailed in defeating McMinn County 51-31 for third place. Taylor Neuharth had 14 points to lead the Lady Mustangs, who will travel to Coffee County for a region opener. Hannah Brown had nine points to lead McMinn, which plays Thursday at Warren County.