Jessica Stepp came of the bench to pour in 16 of her game-high 21 points in the final two frames to keep the Lady Mustangs unbeaten with a 53-42 victory in the first District 5-AAA game for the teams picked by the coaches and media to finish 1-2 in the conference this season.
After their first games as head coaches in the intra-county rivalry, both Jan Spangler (Walker Valley) and Jason Reuter (Bradley) agreed the 5-foot-8 junior wing “really stepped it up” and “shot the lights out.”
Draining five of her team’s eight 3-pointers, midway through the third period Stepp scored 10 straight points to change a tie game into eight-point Lady Mustang lead.
The Bradley boys gave the home Jim Smiddy Arena crowd something to cheer about in the nightcap as junior Justin Houston posted a career-high 21 points in the Bears largest ever margin of victory over the Mustangs — 70-27.
“We took them out of what they wanted to do,” Bradley head coach Kent Smith stated. “Not only did Justin have a great night, but the entire team really hustled and got after them.”
Still unbeaten on the season, the Bears face a tough challenge Tuesday night with a trip to district-favorite Ooltewah.
“Ooltewah has a lot of guys back from last year’s team that went to the sub-state,” Smith related. “They’ll be tough to beat in their place.”
While Bradley will be getting off Interstate 75 at exit 11, Walker Valley will continue to the other side of Chattanooga Tuesday with a date at The Baylor School.
Lady Mustangs 53
The two teams played near identical first halves with the lead changing hands a half dozen times as both hit seven shots from the field and the fillies from the north end of the county making one more free throw for a 20-19 edge at the intermission.
The first four minutes of the third frame were a continuation of the evenly matched previous half, but then Stepp’s 10-2 run broke the Lady Mustangs into a full gallop.
Bradley’s Emily McCracken drained a long-range bomb with less than a minute to go in the period to try to turn the tide, but Walker Valley’s 6-foot senior Kayla Sewell stepped out behind the arc on a moment later to drill a 3 of her own to keep the Blue-and-Gold momentum going.
Up by a half dozen, Walker Valley (4-0, 1-0) quickly pushed its advantage to double digits when senior Laurel Allen opened the final period with a 3 before junior Taylor Neuharth broke free on a fast break.
Bradley (3-3, 0-1) responded immediately with Kayla Beavers’ fourth long-range bomb and a coast-to-coast steal and fast break by Bearette 6-foot-1 freshman Brooke Copeland.
Copeland added a three-point play while putting back in an offensive rebound to trim the lead to five points with just under four minutes to play but that was as close as the southsiders would get.
Stepp pushed the advantage from five to 11 points with her fourth and fifth 3s of the night before Lee University signee Jordan Neuharth capped off a 14-point night with a pair of free throws to push the advantage to 13 with less than a minute to go.
Bradley’s only points in the final 2:47 of the game came from Copeland as she finished of a 9-for-9 night at the charity stripe with 24.5 seconds on the clock. She was the only Bearette to go to the foul line on the night.
While Bradley won the battle of the boards by a 34-30 margin, they also led in turnovers 21-12.
“We didn’t take care of the ball. We had way too many unforced turnovers,” Coach Reuter bemoaned. “Give Walker Valley credit — they are a very good team, but we just handed the ball to them a lot. We also let Stepp have way too many open shots and she made us pay.”
The Lady Mustangs held the advantage in field goal percent, draining 11-of-29 from in front of the arc and 8-for-23 behind it. The Bearettes made just 5-of-25 long-range shots and 8-of-25 from two-point land. Walker Valley made just 6-of-16 free throws.
Jordan Neuharth copped four steals, pulled down four caroms, handed out a trio of assists and blocked a shot to go along with her double-digit point performance.
Sewell helped out with nine rebounds, seven points and a couple of helps, while Taylor Neuharth swiped three thefts and handed out a trio of helps.
Beavers led the Bearette offense with 18 points, while Copeland, who missed a game earlier this week with the flu, was chairman of the boards with a dozen caroms, plus she blocked a pair of shots to go with her 13 points.
Junior Caroline Smith continued her recovery from a foot injury with a half dozen points, five boards and five assists. Rebecca Reuter, a 6-foot-2 freshman, came off the bench to clean the glass for six rebounds, plus she blocked a couple of shots.
Bears 70, Mustangs 27
Scoring the first 17 points of the game, the Bradley boys let the large crowd know in a hurry the nightcap was not going to be same type of game as the opener.
After missing its first eight shots and turning the ball over a half dozen times, Walker Valley (1-3) finally found the bottom of the net when newcomer Jahmal Johnson hit a shot from the paint at the 3:25 mark of the opening frame.
Bradley (5-0) answered with a James Stovall 3-pointer and led 22-6 at the first break. The Bears stretched their advantage to 23 points at the half by outscoring the visitors 16-9 in the second eight-minute span.
The second half was more of the same with the hosts opened the third frame with a 20-6 run and then held the Mustangs to just three points in the final period.
Houston’s big night came in spurts as the 5-foot-8 guard poured in 10 points in the opening frame and then tallied nine more in the third. Adding his final basket early in the fourth quarter, he also dished out four assists and copped three steals.
“I felt good tonight,” Houston stated. “We have been playing together this season. We don’t worry about who is getting the points as long as we are winning. Tonight just happen to be my night. We’ve got to keep it up.”
Sophomore Matt Whitmire came off the bench to help out with 10 points, plus he cleaned the glass for a half dozen caroms.
Bryce Copeland pumped in nine points and swiped three steals in the victory while Stovall added seven points, four boards and a pair of blocks.
Junior Hunter Chastain snatched eight boards and copped a trio of steals, while Gerardo Contreras came off the bench to pulled down six rebounds.
Bradley won the battle of the boards by a 37-28 margin, plus copped 23 steals as a big chunk of 33 Mustang turnovers on the night.
No Walker Valley player scored in double figures as Caio Hysinger topped the visitor’s total with eight points. Playing in just his second game with the Mustangs after transferring in from Georgia, Johnson pulled down eight rebounds and blocked five shots.
Bears 50, Mustangs 31
Like their varisty counterparts, the Bradley junior varsity squad jumped out to a big lead early and never looked back.
Leading 17-3 at the first break, the JV Bears led by 19 at the half and 25 going into the final frame.
With the scoring spread out among 10 Bears, Logan Cox led the way with 10 points, while Blade Cruz and Contreras added seven points each.
Derice Anthony topped Walker Valley with eight points, while Gabe Cartwright netted seven.
Walker Valley 10 10 16 17 — 53
Bradley Central 9 10 11 12 — 42
Lady Mustangs (53) — Jessica Stepp 21, Jordan Neuharth 14, Kayla Sewell 7, Laurel Allen 5, Karis Terpstra 4, Taylor Neuharth 2, Lindsey Sotuyo.
Bearettes (42) — Kayla Beavers 18, Brooke Copeland 13, Caroline Smith 6, Emily McCracken 3, Rebecca Reuter 2, Keila Formont, Monica Hammond, Kayla Withrow.
3-pointers: Walker Valley 8 (Stepp 5, Sewell, J.Neuharth, Allen); Bradley 5 (Beavers 4, McCracken).
Free Throws: Walker Valley 7-of-15; Bradley 9-of-9.
Records: Walker Valley 4-0; Bradley Central 3-3.
Walker Valley 6 9 9 3 — 27
Bradley Central 22 16 20 12 — 70
Mustangs (27) — Caio Hysinger 8, Drew Zaleta 6, Jahmal Johnson 4, Marcus Hunter 3, Joseph Lowe 2, Jackson Brownfield 2, Jordan Knight 2, Colton Hobbs, Gabe Cartwright.
Bears (69) — Justin Houston 21, Matt Whitmire 10, Bryce Copeland 9, James Stovall 7, Miles Christian 6, Hunter Chastain 5, Gerardo Contreras 4, Miles Morgan 4, Blake Cruz 2, Darien Johnson 2, Dylan Johnston, Chris Thompson.
3-pointers: Walker Valley 1 (Hunter); Bradley 6 (Houston 3, Copeland 2, Stovall).
Free Throws: Walker Valley 8-of-19; Bradley 8-of-15.
Records: Walker Valley 1-3; Bradley Central 5-0.