CLEVELAND, Tenn. - If one thing has been proven time and time again this season, it's that the Bradley Central girls' basketball team won't be dealt any favors. Game in and game out, the Bearettes have taken the best punch an opposing team has to offer.
Yet time and time again, they've been able to survive.
Monday night they found themselves in a war with rival Cleveland, but they used a 10-2 fourth-quarter run to claim the District 5-AAA tournament championship with a 51-43 victory over the host Lady Raiders.
The Bearettes will host Cumberland County in a Region 3 quarterfinal Friday night, while the Lady Raiders will host White County.
Bradley's Brooke Copeland and Rebecca Reuter combined for 33 points and 27 rebounds in Monday's win, while Kayla Withrow added 12 points. The Bearettes (25-2) claimed their third consecutive title despite losing six seniors -- five playing college basketball -- from last season's sectional team. They used only six players Monday, and Copeland, Reuter and Withrow played the entire 32 minutes.
"Brooke and Rebecca have led us in scoring all year long, and as the old saying goes, 'You've got to dance with who brought you there," Bradley coach Jason Reuter said. "We're not going to change who gets the most looks on our team.
"Tonight was a very tough game and we haven't had many like that. I think Cleveland played a whale of a game. Our players need games like this that come down to the last few minutes, where they can show the moxie to dig down and make plays. It'll help us down the line."
Bradley jumped to a quick 10-3 lead, but the Lady Raiders (18-9), who stymied the Bearettes in the first half by changing defenses each possession, rallied for a 26-25 lead on a steal and layup by Sydnie Anderson, who finished with a team-high 16 points. The game was tied at 28 at halftime.
The Bearettes expanded a 37-36 lead to 47-38 in four minutes of game time in the final quarter. Their execution improved in the late stages, while Cleveland's 3-point attempts were off and many drives were contested in the lane by Copeland and Reuter, who blocked three shots and altered numerous others.
Anderson played one of the best games of her career and had four assists, four steals and two blocks. Qetuwrah Abdullah-Muhammad added 11 points, six rebounds and four steals, while Shawnia Anderson had seven rebounds.
"In the fourth quarter, we lost our legs a little," Cleveland coach Mindy Kiser said. "I told the girls before the game that if you couldn't get fired up and leave it all on the floor that there was something wrong with them.
"We had a great opportunity to win a district championship against a rival on our home floor. Bradley hit some big shots at the right times. If things come full circle, we could meet again."