MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — For the ninth time in program history, the Bradley Central Bearettes will play for a TSSAA basketball state title.
Coach Jason Reuter's team set the tone from tipoff against Cookeville at the BlueCross State Championships, suppressing the Lady Cavaliers' attack on the way to a 59-43 wire-to-wire victory in the Class 4A semifinals Friday at Middle Tennessee State University's Murphy Center.
Now the Bearettes (34-1) will try to win the program's seventh state title overall and first since 2019, when the current senior class was in eighth grade. On Saturday, they'll face Bartlett (36-7) — a 56-35 winner against Green Hill in Friday's first semifinal — at 2:30 p.m. Eastern with a gold ball trophy on the line.
Bradley Central jumped out to a 14-2 lead against Cookeville (31-5) with the help of a three-point play from freshman Kimora Fields and 3-point shots by both senior Hannah Jones and sophomore Avary Brewer. Harmonie Ware was just starting her assault on the basket, too.
The sophomore who starred in the Bearettes' quarterfinal win against previously unbeaten Bearden on Wednesday was tough again while driving to the hoop. Ware went the length of the court to score multiple times as she totaled a game-high 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting while also grabbing six rebounds and handing out three assists.
"I came here to Murfreesboro with the mindset that we have made it this far, why stop now?" said Ware, who since not making the all-district tournament team has gone on to be the region tournament MVP and would seem to be in the running for state tournament MVP. "I just want to keep going. We want to win a state championship. That is our ultimate goal."
Bradley Central caused only five turnovers but was still phenomenal on defense against Cookeville by refusing to let the Lady Cavaliers get anything started from outside. The Bearettes limited them to 2-of-14 shooting from 3-point range and 11-of-33 success inside the arc.
Through two games at the state tournament, the Bearettes have allowed a combined 10 points in the first quarter. The opening period has been their best this season as they have outscored opponents 683-239 in the first eight minutes over 35 games.
"We come out every game wanting to tell the other team from the jump that we are going to be here all game long," Jones said. "We want to get into them and let them know we are going to play tough defense the entire way. Starting fast always helps."
Senior Sloan Carpenter grabbed six of her nine rebounds in the first half, and she combined with Fields for 20 rebounds total as the Bearettes won the battle of the boards 34-17 over the Lady Cavaliers and also held a 17-point halftime lead, up 31-14.
Erika Swick made a 3-pointer from the left corner off one of Fields' four assists for a 29-10 lead with 2:09 left in the first half. The lead was the Bearettes' largest in the victory in which they shot 56.8% (21-of-37) from the field.
Fields finished with 11 points and as many rebounds with one blocked shot, while Brewer scored 12 points and added two steals.
Jones helped close out the game with great finds in the fourth quarter, and she finished with seven points on 3-of-5 shooting and four assists.
"We have worked year-round for this moment," Jones said. "The pressure is not on me as much as it was last year. We all work together. It's not all required on one person. That's why we thrive, because we can rely on each other."
Since losing 75-69 to Class 2A's McMinn Central on Jan. 30, Bradley Central has won 11 straight games, including avenging that loss to the Chargerettes with a 59-50 victory in the regular-season finale on Feb. 10 before adding eight postseason triumphs.
And after a dominant win against Cookeville and a last-second thriller victory against Bearden — which was ranked No. 1 in 4A in the final Associated Press poll of the season — one test remains.
Bartlett is on a 13-game winning streak, and the Memphis powerhouse has lost only twice to in-state foes this season, 51-42 to Division II-A state champion Webb School of Bell Buckle and 74-62 to 4A's Arlington, which won 20-plus games before losing in the regional semifinals.
Now the Lady Panthers stand in Bradley Central's path, and the Bearettes' coach won't let them take their final foe lightly.
"We are in for a showdown tomorrow," Reuter said. "We have not seen a 6-foot-5 girl like Mallory Collier this season. They are very deep, and they are going to to come at us with double teams and traps. They are going to play their style of ball.
"You have to be able to play a lot of different ways. One thing I know for sure is my girls will play really hard for Bradley Central and for each other. I am looking forward to it."
Contact Patrick MacCoon at email@example.com.