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Lady Pioneers set to face No. 1 Bradley Central
Brielee Kelsey vs Cookeville 2-20.jpg
Brielee Kelsey and the Lady Pioneers travel to face the No. 1-ranked team in the state tonight in first-round region tournament action. - photo by Brad Durham

The Lady Pioneers travel to Cleveland on Friday night to face the No. 1-ranked Bradley Central Bearettes at 7 p.m. EST. 

Bradley Central has been a thorn in the side of Lady Pioneer basketball for decades. They first met in the 1973 state final, which Bradley Central won on a last-second shot, 45-43. 

The teams have met several times in recent years in similar situations to tonight’s first round of the Region 3-AAA tournament. Bradley Central is the No. 1 seed in its district, and Warren County is the No. 4 seed in its district. 

The Lady Pioneers are led by the surging sophomore Kyra Perkins, who has led the team in scoring the past four games. Senior Kam Nowlin started in the last Lady Pioneer game, and she has come on strong at the end of the season and during the district tournament. 

Freshman Sable Winfree injured her back in the last district tournament game against White County and it is hoped she is in playing shape tonight. Senior Erica Cantrell has been strong in the post, and she will have her hands full tonight against Bradley Central. Junior Jaden Smartt has been a consistent starter, and she along with Cantrell and Perkins will try to contain Bradley Central inside the paint.

Bradley Central has three girls who are 6-feet or taller. One forward is 5-foot-11 and a guard is 5-foot-8. Their height is a serious advantage for the Bearettes. If they have a weakness, it is their perimeter shooting. Some coaches believe collapsing on them in the paint with a zone and letting Bradley Central shoot from outside is the only realistic defensive strategy.

Bradley Central is 23-1 overall, 12-0 in District 5-AAA, and ranked No. 1 in the final AP Girls Prep Poll in Tennessee. The Bearettes have won six state titles, 1962, 1970, 1973, 1975, 1976, and 2019. 

They have won more state titles than any other girls high school basketball team in Tennessee. 

Bradley Central was also state runner-up in 1976 and 1995. That is a total of eight state final appearances. Their only loss this season was in November to Upperman High School, 54-36.

If the Lady Pioneers upset Bradley Central, they will play Tuesday night against the winner of the Cookeville-Cleveland game. Other region tournament games have White County at McMinn County and East Hamilton at Stone Memorial. 

It has been a remarkable season in many ways for the 12-13 Lady Pioneers. They only won two games last season, and the youth movement of sophomores Mia Hobbs, Kyra Perkins, Shelby Smartt, and freshman Sable Winfree has accomplished significant goals this season of winning more games and advancing to the region tournament. 

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