Bradley Central can start preparing in earnest for its quarterfinal opener in the TSSAA girls state basketball tournament that begins Wednesday in Murfreesboro.
The No. 6 Bearettes (31-3), winners of 19 straight games, will be playing Dickson County (29-3) at 11:30 a.m. CST at Middle Tennessee State’s Murphy Center.
In other opening matchups, Oak Ridge (28-4) plays Dyer County (27-5) in the first game at 10 a.m.; Wilson Central (33-0) goes against Memphis Central (33-2) at 1:15 p.m. and Morristown West (31-3) takes on perennial title contender Riverdale (29-4).
Interestingly, Riverdale missed the 2015 tournament when it was forced to forfeit a sectional game because the coach instructed his players to “throw the game.”
Only two of the eight Class 3A schools – Morristown West and Dickson County -- played in the 2015 tournament.
Dickson County rolled into Murfreesboro with a 32-2 record, but lost to Bearden, 57-49, in the quarterfinals.
Morristown West defeated Arlington in the quarterfinals, but fell to eventual state champion Blackman, 60-40, in the semifinals. Blackman edged cross-town rival Oakland, 58-54, for the title.
Coach Jason Reuter’s Bearettes, the District 5-3A and Region 3-3A tournament champions, knocked off upstart Stewarts Creek, 68-58, Saturday in the sectionals to earn their third trip in four years to Murfreesboro.
Bradley Central has won five state championships, but none since 1976 when girls were still playing 6-on-6 basketball.
This year’s team hopes to end that long title drought.
“It’s very exciting to be going back to Murfreesboro,” senior Julia Gaither said after the Bearettes’ pulled out Saturday’s victory that extended their home winning streak to 25 games. “I feel like we have the team that can take it all the way, so we’re going to prepare for whoever we’re going to play and go for it.”
Bradley players who know about the team’s history, and they all do, understand it’s a difficult challenge once they reach the big stage at MTSU.
In 2013, the Bearettes won district and region tournament titles, nipped Oakland by 37-36 in the sectional and then came up short against Memphis Ridgeway, 53-45, in the state quarterfinals, thus ending the four-year by their Twin Towers, 6-foot-plus post players Brooke Copeland and Rebecca Reuter.
The year before, Bradley also claimed district and region championships, knocked off Blackman in the sectional and then was shellacked by Science Hill, 64-38, in the quarterfinals.
Junior Halle Hughes, who scored a game-high 26 points that included a 13-for 16 free-throw shooting display that awed everyone inside Jim Smiddy Arena, was a freshman the last time Bradley reached the state tournament.
She’s eager for another shot at the elusive championship trophy.
“This time I think we’ll have a pretty good chance and we’re going to focus on the future, not the past,” Hughes said. “I really want to win a state championship before I leave Bradley.”
Once the draw meeting in Murfreesboro ended, Reuter started the business of going to state, things like rounding up hotel rooms and more importantly gathering information on Dickson County’s team and what problems it may present.
The primary one is the talent of super-talented Lea Lea Carter, who recently signed to play at Vanderbilt. Carter had virtually every Division I college in the country recruiting her.
Carter is rated the No. 8 player in the country.
Carter surpassed the career 1,000-point mark as a junior and led the Lady Cougars to the District 10-3A and Region 6-3A tournament championships and the eventual berth in the state tournament.
“I’ve never seen Dickson County play,” Reuter said. Their coach (Greg Tipps) was at Stone Memorial for one year before going to Dickson County this season. They’re 29-3 and whipped a lot of people.”
In 29 victories, only once has the point spread been under double digits, that a 50-45 win over Rossview in Saturday’s sectional. Dickson County’s average winning margin is 27.6 points and that includes three wins by 64, 60 and 63 points.
Tipps replaced Eve Hamilton, who retired.
The new coach was immediately impressed with his star player and the possible immediate impact Carter will have at Vanderbilt.
“Her athletic ability and her passing ability is what I think from day one is going to change Vanderbilt basketball,” Tipps told the Tennesseean when Carter signed. “She’s going to make some really good teammates a whole lot better.”
Clearly, the Bearettes will have to deal with Carter and a few other solid players that have carried the Lady Cougars back to Murfreesboro.
“They have more than just the one player,” Reuter said. “I know they have an outstanding point guard and a big sophomore post that’s wide.
“We’ve got a pretty good player in Rhyne Howard, too, with some good one around her.”
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)