BRADLEY CENTRAL (29-2) vs. SCIENCE HILL (33-3)
Science Hill coach: Darrell Barnwell
Three players to watch: Shy Copney (Sr., G, Middle Tennessee State signee); Tiarra Tarter (Jr., PG); Engelica Reid (Sr., G)
What you need to know: The Lady Hilltoppers, a nationally ranked team that was state runner-up last season, are effective in the fact that they pressure for 84 feet and throw waves of players at opponents. They also have 6-foot-1 junior Gabby Lyon as an interior presence. Copney is just now getting back to form after tearing her ACL in the state championship game last year, while the lightning-quick Tarter and Reid keep opponents honest from the perimeter.
Bradley Central coach: Jason Reuter
Three players to watch: Brooke Copeland (Jr., F); Whitney Donaldson (Jr., PG); Kayla Withrow (Sr., G)
What you need to know: The Bearettes will be without Rebecca Reuter, a junior forward who will be serving the first of a two-game suspension today. Baylee Carroll will take her place in the lineup and will be asked to provide additional ball-handling along with Donaldson, Withrow and Brandi Whitted. Withrow and Whitted keep defenses honest from 3-point range if they pay too much attention to Copeland inside.
Ever since he took over as the Bradley Central girls' basketball coach three seasons ago, Jason Reuter has applied a "next person up" approach with the team. Yet he wishes that approach could be applied only during the regular season and not become so necessary in March.
A season ago, the Bearettes fell in the sectional round to Lawrence County after losing district player of the year Caroline Smith to a concussion in the region championship game against Cumberland County. This year the fourth-ranked Bearettes were able to take the next step, defeating second-ranked Blackman 55-46 to advance to their first state tournament since 2001, but junior forward Rebecca Reuter was assessed two technical fouls in that game and must serve a two-game suspension after the TSSAA denied Bradley's appeal.
Coach Reuter, who is 88-10 in his three seasons, called the situation "bittersweet" with the team in Murfreesboro but without the services of his daughter, its second-leading scorer and rebounder. Senior Baylee Carroll will take her place in the starting lineup when the Bearettes (29-2) face Science Hill -- tied at No. 2 with Blackman -- in a Class AAA quarterfinal this afternoon at 2 EST.
"It takes away from some of the joy, but we're here," he said. "It's like going to a gunfight without all six bullets, but make no mistake about it, we're going up there to win. These girls are a very good team without Rebecca."
The biggest question in Coach Reuter's mind isn't how his daughter is going to be replaced but who is going to take over Carroll's spot in the rotation.
"We're going to have to dig a little deeper," he said. "We've been going six-deep in our rotation, but this is why you prepare for different scenarios behind the scenes as coaches. It's why you practice so much: It's not so much for the starters as much as it is for the next line of fire."
Coach Reuter noted that the only real change between what Carroll has done through the course of the season and what she'll be asked to do today will just be the extended minutes.
"Baylee's going to be asked to do what she's done all year long -- run the offense, execute plays, play hard-nosed defense and rebound," he said. "We're not asking her to go out and score a lot more, but we may need more. She may need to rebound a little more and will definitely need to keep her turnovers to a minimum, which she's done all year.
"I have no doubt about her effort -- she's always going to play really hard."
Carroll, a 5-foot-8 senior, has split time at the 3 and the 4 slots throughout the year. She has some starting experience, and although she admitted she feels "nervous," she expressed some confidence going into the game against the Lady Hilltoppers.
One player she could be asked to guard -- junior Gabby Lyon -- stands about 6-1.
"I have to step up, and I'm a little nervous, but I feel good about it," Carroll said Tuesday. "We're definitely going to have to be smart on the court, and it's going to be a little more challenging, but I feel good because I guard two tall girls in practice every day.
"I'm excited, though. It's a dream of mine to be here, and it's been a long time since we've been here. I'm glad to be a part of it."