REGION 3-AAA CHAMPIONSHIP
At Cumberland County
OOLTEWAH 60, BRADLEY CENTRAL 58
Ooltewah 19 15 18 8 -- 60
Bradley Central 12 14 12 20 -- 58
Ooltewah (60) -- Antonio Jackson 10, Creech 8, Jaqueze Robinson 12, Moton 7, Arnold, Ben Snider 11, Jervon Johnson 12.
Bradley Central (58) -- Houston 2, Bryce Copeland 23, Johnson, Christian, Hunter Chastain 12, Miles Morgan 17, Whitmire 4.
3-point goals: Ooltewah 6 (Robinson 2, Johnson 2, Jackson, Snider); Bradley 4 (Copeland 3, Chastain). Records: Ooltewah 26-5; Bradley 28-6.
All-tournament team: Phillip Roper, Trey Henderson (Cookeville); Cedric Nevins, Taylor Hicks (McMinn County); Bryce Copeland, Hunter Chastain, Miles Morgan (Bradley Central); Antonio Jackson, Ben Snider, Jervon Johnson (Ooltewah).
CROSSVILLE, Tenn. -- Sometimes a coach has to dig deep into his playbook to dial up a winning combination. In some cases, that means blowing the dust off an offense or defense that is rarely used.
Enter the Ooltewah 3-2 zone defense.
The Owls built a double-digit advantage on Bradley Central by switching to their seldom-used defense but had to hold off a furious rally to claim the school's first-ever region championship Thursday. They won 60-58 in the Region 3-AAA championship game at Cumberland County.
Ooltewah (26-5) will host Region 4 runner-up LaVergne at 7 p.m. Monday. The Bears (28-6) will travel to Murfreesboro to face Blackman, which edged LaVergne 43-42.
Feeling slighted, the Owls came out fired up, building a seven-point advantage by the end of the first quarter that grew to 12 on three occasions in the second period of play. They lived in the passing lanes, which led to some turnovers but also resulted in Bradley layups.
"I have complete respect for Bradley, but all we've been hearing about is how they're a better team," Ooltewah coach Jesse Nayadley said. "The guys have been chomping at the bit for another opportunity to play them."
Ooltewah led by eight at halftime, but the Bears battled back in the third period, closing to within three on two layups by Matt Whitmire. Nayadley then switched to the zone, and the Owls responded with an 11-0 run to end the quarter.
"We've probably used the zone five possessions all season," he said. "We talked about it on the way up here. You have to try something; sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't."
The lead was 11 after a layup by Jervon Johnson, but the tide seemed to change after a technical foul was called on Andre Moton. Bradley's Bryce Copeland scored five consecutive points, and the Owls missed five of six free throws -- including the front ends of two bonuses -- and the Bears trimmed the lead to 57-55 on a three-point play by Miles Morgan with 35.3 seconds to go.
Moton hit a free throw and Johnson added two, but Bradley's Hunter Chastain hit a 3-pointer to trim the margin again to two points with 2.3 seconds to go. Johnson mishandled the ensuing inbounds pass but blocked a Copeland 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
Johnson and Jaqueze Robinson led a balanced scoring attack with 12 points each for Ooltewah. Ben Snider added 11 and Antonio Jackson had 10 for Ooltewah. Copeland paced Bradley with 23 points, while Morgan added 17 and Chastain tallied 12.
"I liked that we didn't quit," Bradley coach Kent Smith said. "We had a great effort to get back in the game. They exploited some weaknesses in our zone in the first half, but I thought we were a little quick in our shot selection as well.
"The plan now is to go to Blackman and get a win. We're going to have to do it the hard way, so we have to put our hard hats on."