CLEVELAND, Tenn. - "Dance with the one who brought you."
The Bradley Central basketball Bearettes needed a play to be made Saturday evening in their Class AAA sectional contest against Murfreesboro Oakland, and the two players who had been the cornerstone of their program for the past four seasons were the ones who came up biggest at the right time.
Brooke Copeland passed to Rebecca Reuter for a layup with four seconds remaining, which provided the difference in a 37-36 victory over the Lady Patriots at Jim Smiddy Arena, clinching the Bearettes' second consecutive trip to the state tournament. Their next opponent will be determined by a blind draw this afternoon in Murfreesboro.
Copeland finished with 14 points, while Emma Kate Brown had 12 and Reuter scored nine. Reuter will be playing in her first state tournament game after sitting out last year due to an ejection in last season's sectional game.
"I don't think we played as well as we'd hoped, but I knew on the last play that I would try to throw it to Brooke or she'd try to throw it to me," Reuter said. "There was no designed play: I just finished a big shot, but I'm proud of my team.
"I'm just so excited I get to play this year -- that's the icing on the cake."
The Lady Patriots were 4-for-16 at the free-throw line Saturday, including 3-for-9 in the fourth quarter. They missed their last three attempts, the final of which set up the go-ahead shot. Bradley (26-5) then had to sweat out an Emily Eubank 3-point attempt at the buzzer that rimmed out.
"We got a nice look there," Oakland coach Jennifer Grandstaff said. "It was a great game, and we did everything we needed to do on the defensive end to win. Free throws have been our Achilles' heel all year long, and it caught up to us tonight, but the kids battled and met the challenge in a great environment. We came up short, but I couldn't be more proud of them."
The Bearettes were 12-for-15 from the line. They stayed close due to the play of Reuter, Copeland and the freshman Brown, who had two huge 3s, the last of which came after Ansley Eubank's 3-pointer gave Oakland a 33-28 lead in the fourth period. Eubank's shot was the last field goal for Oakland.
Bradley coach Jason Reuter breathed a sigh of relief after he had guaranteed a win before the game.
"I told the girls during the district tournament that if we got to this game, I would get them to Murfreesboro -- like any coach would say," Coach Reuter said. "The region final was an elimination game because the loser was going to the No. 1 team in America, but for a while I was afraid I had written a check my hind end couldn't cash.
"The girls overcame unbelievable odds. They never gave up and learned a life lesson beyond basketball. If we flinch one second, we wouldn't have won this. Oakland missed their free throws; we didn't -- that's part of the game. This game could have gone either way, and if we play it over, eight out of 10 times, they've got it, but not tonight.
"We're dancing. We're moving on, and at this point, that's all I can ask."
Emily Eubank, who has signed with Lipscomb University, scored 11 points to lead Oakland (26-7). Shelby Gibson added nine plus nine rebounds.
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.