The Mustangs, like the biggest part of last week, remained in a deep freeze against the Eagles. Walker Valley fell behind by 16 before cutting the Rhea County lead to six late in the game. The Mustangs could not pull any closer in the 63-53 loss.
To be sure, it was an extraordinarily unusual week for all schools in the local area with more than eight inches of snow putting a halt not only to classes, but all school-related activities as well. The Mustangs, as with most other athletic programs, were only able to get in a single practice before getting back onto the court in Saturday’s District 5-AAA tilt.
“It was not the greatest night for us,” said Lady Mustangs' coach Jan Spangler after the win. “I thought we came out again a little sloppy. We came out flat for whatever reason, being out of our routine, having the days off and not being able to practice until yesterday. (I'm not) not making excuses, we need to be ready to play either way.”
Walker Valley simply struggled to find itself in the first quarter on both ends of the court. Karis Terpstra's 3-pointer with 3:12 left left in the period were the first points for the Lady Mustangs. Jordan Neuharth added a pair of free throws with just under two minutes left to make the score 9-5 in favor of the Lady Eagles.
“I would say absolutely (it was the lowest point total of the season). We didn't shoot it well, obviously but we were getting decent shots,” Spangler said of the first eight minutes. “I think we settle for a 3-pointer when we need to get inside and move it a little bit more.”
Terpstra opened the second quarter with a 3 that cut the Rhea County lead to four and the Lady Mustangs showed signs of life as they chipped away at the Lady Eagles’ advantage. Taylor Neuharth and Laurel Allen combined to cut it to 14-12 and back-to-back 3s from Taylor Neuharth and Allen turned the tide by giving the Lady Mustangs an 18-14 lead. Walker Valley closed out the first half with 12 unanswered points to take a 30-16 advantage into halftime.
“When we are flat on defense it affects our offense. We are a lot better when we can create some turnovers, grab rebounds and make baskets. We weren't able to do that in the first quarter,” Spangler observed. “I thought we got better in the second quarter. In spurts we were OK, but, we have to play better, more consistent.”
Kayla Sewell boosted the Lady Mustangs’ lead to 34-16 with four straight points to open the third quarter before the Lady Eagles fought back with seven straight to make it 34-23 with just under four minutes left in the period. The Lady Mustangs retaliated with a steal by Allen that resulted in points and a Taylor Neuharth free throw. Neuharth's 3 was followed seconds later by a Jessica Stepp 3-pointer to put Walker Valley up 43-25.
The Lady Mustangs fell back into their first-quarter habits in the final eight minutes. Sewell, Taylor Neuharth and Jordan Neuharth scored all the Walker Valley fourth-quarter points in the first two minutes of the period forcing the Lady Mustangs to play defense the rest of the way. Jordan Neuharth's 3 with 5:58 left to play would be the last points for Walker Valley ... much to the dismay of Spangler.
Taylor Neuharth led all scoring with 16 points while Allen added 11 to the Walker Valley total.
The Lady Mustangs were obliged to hold off the Lady Eagles whose 11-0 run made the final score 52-41.
“I was disappointed in the effort when we subbed tonight. I didn't think our bench played very well. I do feel like they've gotten better. Against Cleveland I thought they did a great job finishing out the game. You can't expect your bench to have energy if your starters don't have energy. I thought they were flat as well,” said Spangler.
Golden Eagles 63,
Mustangs' coach Bob Williams is doing all he can to keep the Mustangs positive in spite a disappointing 1-13 record so far this season. Williams is forced to watch helplessly as the Mustangs show flashes of solid ability only to let a mistake push them back to mediocrity.
“We work so hard to get some positive things going and then we give up an easy basket or don't rotate good on defense,” said Williams.
The Mustangs have also been up against the administrative wall with no practices allowed until Friday. Then, with precious little time to loosen up, Walker Valley jumped back into the district fire against the Rhea Eagles.
“No excuses, but this has been a tough week as far as getting anything ready. I was kind of hesitant to schedule tonight.” said Williams. “We have had one practice under our belt in a week. It was tough to get ready for this. It's either try to get it in or squeeze it in later, and we don't have much time left to get them in."
Joe Lowe put Walker Valley up 7-4 with just over three minutes left in the first quarter. From there, the Mustangs were in catch-up mode after the Eagles ran off seven points to make it 11-7. Rhea closed out the first quarter with a 14-9 lead.
Drew Zaleta sparked a six-point Walker Valley run to open the second period with a 3-pointer. Marquis Foy finished up the run with a foul and free throw to put the Mustangs on top 15-14. Walker Valley led twice more, 19-16 and 21-19 before falling behind 26-21.
It went from bad to worse for the Mustangs in the third quarter. Rhea County opened the second half with a 9-0 run for a 35-21 lead. Walker Valley fought back with five points and added two more before the close of the period.
Trailing by 15, 43-28, to open the fourth, The Mustangs battled to find a way to get back into the game. Foy, who ended the afternoon with 19 points to lead Walker Valley in scoring, pumped in eight consecutive points to cut the Rhea advantage to 54-46. Caio Hysinger added a basket with 1:33 left to make it 54-48. Jackson Brownfield and Foy closed out the scoring with five points as the Eagles took the win.
Zaleta was the only other Mustangs to finish in double figures with 11 points.
“We didn't rotate well on the back line," Williams said of the Mustangs' failure to capitalize on the comeback. “The guys are playing hard but we've got to find a way to get it together for four quarters somehow. We are just going to get back in the gym and work hard."
Walker Valley 5 25 15 7 — 52
Rhea County 9 7 12 13 — 41
Walker Valley (52) — Taylor Neuharth 16, Laurel Allen 10, J. Neuharth 9, Sewell 8, Terpstra 6, Stepp 3. Black, Macon, Sotuyo, Liner.
Rhea County (41) — Alex Hughey 11, Brown 9, Miles 2, Veener, Hickey 3, Walker 2, Nixon 8, Allen 2, Thompson 2, Matthews, Gentry 2, Loden.
3-point goals: Walker Valley (6) T. Neuharth 3, Terpstra 2, Stepp; Rhea County (5) Hughey 3, Brown, Hickey.
Records: Walker Valley 13-1, 5-0 in 5-AAA; Rhea County 8-9, 2-3 in 5-AAA.
Walker Valley 9 12 7 25 — 53
Rhea County 14 12 17 20 — 63
Walker Valley (53) — Marquis Foy 19, Drew Zaleta 11, Brownfield 8, Hysinger 7, Lowe 5, Heltzel 3, Johnson, Franklin, Cartwright, Savage, Harwood.
Rhea County (52) — Jaden Smith 20, Andrew Facliani 11, Sharp, Roddy, Clark 9, McWherter 8, Opperman 4, Daniels 3, Coleman.
3-point goals: Walker Valley (5) Foy 2, Zaleta, Lowe, Heltzel.
Records: Walker Valley 1-13, 0-5 in 5-AAA; Rhea County 7-8, 2-3 in 5-AAA.