CLEVELAND, Tenn. — The Bradley Central girls' basketball team lost six seniors a year ago, but they still had talent returning entering the season. Coach Jason Reuter's problem was that his talent hadn't been on the court to prove themselves, yet.
Bradley's opponent on Sunday, Hamilton Heights, had a different problem coming into the year. Not only had their talent not been on the court -- most of them hadn't been in the country.
The Bearettes placed three players in double figures, and battled their way to the Mountain View Inn tournament championship with a 58-39 victory over the Lady Hawks at Bradley's Jim Smiddy Arena. The championship matchup featured six players at least 6-foot-2 or taller.
Bradley's Brooke Copeland led three Bearettes in double figures with 21, and the host school won their first tournament championship since 2005.
"We wanted to come and show who the better team was," Copeland said. "We heard it was being pumped up as the area championship, so we wanted to let them know what's up.
"I'm proud of my team -- a lot of girls stepped up."
Rebecca Reuter had 12 points, adding eight rebounds, while Whitney Donaldson added 10.
Six-foot-3 swingman Teodora Zagorac led the Lady Hawks (3-2) with 17 points, including a pair of second-half 3s, while Ima-Obong Akpan added 12 and eight rebounds.
The Bearettes led for the final 30:28 of the game, after two Copeland free throws made it 6-4. They applied a full-court press, which forced 11 first-half turnovers and led to a 36-23 halftime edge.
The lead bottomed out at 10 in the second half and the final margin was the largest of the evening.
"Tonight's win was a product of more time together and more repetition," Coach Reuter said. "I thought we had great effort and execution. Our confidence is rolling high and we're going to enjoy the moment; it's been a while since we've seen the Bearettes name first in this tournament."
Hamilton Heights coach Keisha Hunt encouraged her interior players to play physical during the match. It worked well at times, yet backfired as 6-foot-4 Ruta Savickaite stayed in foul trouble before fouling out.
The Lady Hawks were playing without junior guard Millika Savic, still hobbled by an ankle injury.
"Bradley is a good team," Hunt said. "They have wonderful post players and good guards. These are the types of teams we have to play to get better -- I think we've closed the gap against teams like this.
"I really wish we could play against them again in a month."