The results were split, with both sets of fans able to take home a victory. The Lady Mustangs defeated the Lady Raiders 50-36 in the opener, while the Mustangs led the majority of the boys’ game before the Raiders made a late rally to claim a 62-61 win by the final buzzer.
With Cleveland (15-8, 9-2) coming into Friday tied for the top spot in the District 5-AAA race, head coach Jason McCowan already knew his squad had a big target on its back. The Mustangs (14-10, 4-7) were keen on being the ones to knock the Raiders out of first, and almost did just that, controlling the game for all but the last two minutes.
“There was a big difference from being the chaser and being chased. Our urgency was a lot better Tuesday night (in a big victory over Ooltewah) than it was tonight, (Friday) we were passive instead of being very aggressive,” McCowan said of his team’s intensity.
Walker Valley took the lead about three minutes into the first period and forced Cleveland to play a game of catch-up for the remainder of the evening.
After holding a 20-18 lead at the end of the opening period, the Mustangs tacked another point onto its advantage after a near evenly matched second frame.
With a 34-31 edge at the intermission Walker Valley was halfway to its objective of knocking the Raiders out of first place.
Cleveland senior point guard CJ Bryant had other ideas, though.
“I wasn’t nervous, I was trying to find four kids to surround CJ with because he was Cleveland basketball tonight,” McCowan stated. “You know there late we had a freshman on the floor, a sophomore, and two juniors surrounding CJ. We were just searching.”
Bryant was able to top his 33-point career high, which had been set on Tuesday night against Ooltewah, by scoring 35 of the Raiders’ 62 points.
The second half of the county and district rivalry game can best be summed up as the “Bryant half,” with the senior scoring 26 of his 35 points in the last 16 minutes. The only other players to contribute to the scoreboard for the Raiders were Anfernee Scott with a 3-pointer in the third, and Cantrel Ware with two free-throw points in the fourth period.
“He willed us to the victory, bottom line. You just can’t give the kid enough credit for the effort he showed out there,” McCowan said of Bryant. “The other kids played hard defensively, we were just in a funk offensively and he was able to get us out of it.”
Despite Bryant’s offensive prowess in the second half, it wasn’t until the last two minutes that the Raiders would finally squeak ahead of the Mustangs.
“I think the last three to four minutes we had the lead and we just turned it over like three or four times in a row, and that gave the momentum back to them,” Walker Valley head coach Bob Williams said.
A basket by Austin Harwood put the Mustangs just one point behind the Raiders with about half a minute remaining in the fourth period. With 12.9 seconds left, a traveling call was made against Cleveland, which gave Walker Valley one final chance at snatching the victory with a last-second drive by Tucker Godfrey but the ball wouldn’t go in.
“I liked Tucker’s drive at the end, I thought he had a good shot at scoring but it just wasn’t meant to be, I guess. Cleveland, got to give them credit, they kept fighting too and I guess it was a good game to watch,” Williams said of the outcome.
The Raider defense was able to hold back Godfrey’s drive, and Cleveland managed to hold onto its first-place standing.
“We handled adversity there in the end. We thought we got fouled there at the end and they called a traveling call,” McCowan said after the game. “For us to come up with a huge defensive stop and be able to come out of here on the road with a one-point victory, I’m very proud of our kids, bottom line.”
Godfrey led the Mustangs with 16 points, followed by Harwood with 13.
Both Walker Valley and Cleveland still have one more district game ahead of them Tuesday, with Bradley Central venturing to “The Stable” and Cleveland hosting Rhea County at “The Dome.”
Williams knows Tuesday’s game will prove to be just as emotionally charged.
“We’ve still got Bradley, another one that’s going to be just like this. Hopefully the guys can pick themselves up and be ready to play.”
LADY MUSTANGS 50,
LADY RAIDERS 36
The Lady Mustangs (13-12, 6-5) were able to set the pace and hit the ground running during their Friday night win over the Lady Raiders (15-7, 6-4).
“Before the basketball game we talked about making sure that we did take the tempo early on and that was something that we didn’t do. We let them get comfortable and we let them have momentum,” Cleveland coach Mindy Kiser said. “Anytime you let a Walker Valley team get momentum on that floor they are going to be dangerous.”
The closest the Lady Raiders came to catching up to the Lady Mustangs was going into the second period, as they only trailed by four points. Any efforts by Cleveland to make a comeback were dashed by Walker Valley, mostly because of Jaclyn Griffith, Lyndsey Macon, and Victoria Jones who scored 15, 14, and 10 points respectively during the game.
“I thought we set the tone as far as the intensity and the energy level. I just thought they played their butts off and I’m so proud of them,” Walker Valley coach Jessica Stone said of her team’s effort. “We were 3-for-15 from the 3-point line, so it’s good when we don’t shoot well that we’re doing other things well in order to win.”
Cleveland fought hard, but according to Kiser seemed to lose energy as the game went on.
The Lady Raiders were led in points by Nora Berry with 12 and Jenna Scoggins with 11.
Walker Valley was 15-for-19 at the free-throw line, while Cleveland was 8-for-10.
Both teams are back in district game action Tuesday night, when the Lady Mustangs hope to carry on their winning momentum and the Lady Raiders hope to shake off a tough loss.
“We need to get some rest this weekend, take a few days off and regroup a little bit, and finish off the regular season on a strong note at home, going into district tournament time ready to play,” Kiser said.
Walker Valley 10 15 11 14 — 50
Cleveland 6 8 13 9 — 36
LADY MUSTANGS (50) — Lyndsey Macon 14, Jaclyn Griffith 15, Victoria Jones 10, Alomar 7, Mowery 4, Percy, P. Davis, C. Davis, Cox, Wilson, Watson, Spann.
LADY RAIDERS (36) — Nora Berry 12, Jenna Scoggins 11, Ware 4, Capron 4, A. Abdullah-Muhammad 3, McClendon 2, Geren, Whittemore, Fugate, Crump, Walkup, Saliba, Phillips.
3-point goals: Walker Valley 3 (Jones, Macon, Alomar); Cleveland 2 (Berry).
Free throws: Walker Valley 15-of-19; Cleveland 8-of-10.
Records: Walker Valley 13-12, 6-5 5-AAA Cleveland 15-7, 6-4
Walker Valley 20 14 18 9 — 61
Cleveland 18 13 14 17 — 62
MUSTANGS (61)— Tucker Godrey 16, Austin Harwood 13, Hysinger 9, Korn 8, Brownfield 6, Melton 5, Swafford 2, Cartwright 2, Anthony, Morrow, Russell Crews, Hunt.
BLUE RAIDERS (62) — CJ Bryant 35, Thompson 9, Johnson 7, Scott 6, Ware 5, Dykes, Beaty, Brown, Little, Bunion, Constant, McCree, Gibson.
3-point goals: Walker Valley 7 (Godfrey 4, Hysinger 2, Melton); Cleveland 10 (Bryant 4, Thompson 3, Scott 2, Ware).
Free throws: Walker Valley 6-of-13; Cleveland 10-of-14.
Records: Walker Valley 14-10, 4-7 5-AAA Cleveland 15-8, 9-2.