There’s no place like home, and the Walker Valley Lady Mustangs and Mustangs are firm believers after their best basketball performances of the year Friday night.
The Mustangs did not win against visiting McMinn County, but coach Bob Williams’ Mustangs had their best “team” effort of the young season. The Cherokees went home with a 52-45 decision, but had to work for every point.
Superior free throw shooting (18 of 20) and a strong fourth quarter by center Eric Wilson lifted McMinn County to the hard-fought victory.
The Cherokees improve to 7-3 on the season with back-to-back victories in Bradley County against Cleveland and Walker Valley. The Mustangs fell to 1-5, but should pick up some confidence with the effort.
The Lady Cherokees ran into a stampede from a herd of Walker Valley Lady Mustangs, were severely trampled early and were never in contention in the first game. McMinn County’s girls scored only 17 points in the 63-17 blowout, getting five of those points in the final 40 seconds of the game.
“I believe it was our best four quarters of the year,” said Walker Valley freshman coach Jan Spangler.
It was a sensational defensive performance as the Lady Mustangs limited the Lady Cherokees to a single field goal in the first half, leading 19-3 at the quarter and 31-4 at halftime.
Despite the huge win, the Walker Valley girls missed a number of layups and did not shoot as well from 3-point land as they have in other games ... or the scoring margin could have been even greater.
The Lady Mustangs are now 6-0, while McMinn County’s girls fell to 4-6.
After five straight games on the road, Friday’s game were the first at home for the Walker Valley teams. They will go back on the road next week with games at Polk County and Ooltewah.
Cherokees 52, Mustangs 45
“We’re that close,” said Walker Valley coach Bob William as he held his thumb and forefinger a little apart after the game.
“This is a work in progress, because we have some new players who are still learning,” the Mustangs’ coach added. “We played much better as a team tonight, but our players were disappointed because they felt they had a chance to win.”
Despite consistency and teamwork on offense the Mustangs had some defensive lapses inside, especially in the fourth quarter. McMinn County’s tall, talented center (Eric Wilcox) was limited to just two free throws over the first three quarters, but he got loose for four inside buckets during the final eight minutes to lead his team to victory. “Our interior defense is going to have to step up,” said coach Williams.
The Cherokees also made 18 of 20 free throws, while Walker Valley managed only five of 15.
Still, the Mustangs stayed in the game until the very end.
The Cherokees jumped out to a 5-0 lead, but Walker Valley battled to a 17-13 deficit after the opening quarter. The Mustangs caught up at 19-19, and trailed by only a field goal at the half, 26-24.
Walker Valley took a five-point lead, 38-33, at the start of the fourth quarter, but McMinn returned the favor by racing ahead by five points, 46-41, with three minutes left. Missed free throws by the Mustangs, and Wilcox’s inside buckets, proved the difference down the stretch.
Desmond McBee topped the Cherokees in scoring with 12 points, while Wilcox added 11. Dante Arnwine contributed eight and James Lowery had seven.
Walker Valley had one of its most balanced offenses of the year. Guard Drew Zaleta led the home team with 18 points, while point guard Caio Hysinger and big man Jahmal Johnson added 10 points apiece.
Lady Mustangs 63, Lady Cherokees 17
Walker Valley’s aggressive, chaotic defense rattled the Lady Cherokees severely over the first four minutes. The pressure remain through the remainder of the game, but perhaps not as intense as those first minutes.
The Lady Mustangs scored the first 11 points of the game before McMinn County’s girls managed a free throw. A layup on a drive by McMinn’s Jessica Murillo with 3:33 on the clock in the first quarter was the visitors’ only field goal of the half. The Lady Cherokees scored only one point in the second quarter and trailed at intermission by 27 points, 31-4.
The margin went all the way up to 49 points, 61-12, in the fourth quarter as the Lady Mustangs’ most difficult task was winding down the clock.
The Walker Valley girls had six players with eight points or more. Center Kayla Sewell had her second big game in a row with 13 points and Laurel Allen had 11. Jordan Neuharth added nine and Taylor Neuharth, Jessica Stepp and Lindsey Sotuyo all got eight.
“It was our best defensive effort,” said coach Spangler. “We put pressure on the ball and moved our legs (especially Laurel Allen). We also executed our offense well, although we did miss a number of layups.”
Both coaches used their reserves through most of the fourth quarter.
n Walker Valley’s junior varsity boys pulled out a thrilling 49-45 win in a preliminary game. The young Cherokees held a four-point, 45-41, lead with just over a minute to go, but the young Mustangs caught up and won by four. Brett Barton scored a late, go-ahead basket and topped Walker Valley in scoring with 15. Queston Simpson scored 14 points to pace McMinn County.
McMinn County 3 1 8 5 — 17
Walker Valley 19 12 24 8 — 63
Lady Cherokees (17) — Smith, Morrow, Murillo 7, Ward, Brewster 2, Bostic, Van Wagner, Gaines, Shirk 3, Smith, Hennessee, Burke 3.
Lady Mustangs (63) — Neuharth 9, Laurel Allen 11, T. Neuharth 8, Terpstra, Kayla Sewell 13, Macon, Lawhorn, Liner 4, Stepp 8, Black 2, Watson, Sotuyo 8.
3-pointers: McMinn County 1 (Shirk); Walker Valley 8 (Allen 3, T. Neuharth 2, Stepp 2, Sewell).
Records: McMinn County 4-6, Walker Valley 6-0.
McMinn County 17 9 11 15 — 52
Walker Valley 13 11 11 10 — 45
Cherokees (52) — Looney 2, Sherrill 5, Eric Wilcox 11, Lowery 7, Arnwine 8, Nevins 2, Hicks, Desmond McBee 12, Simbeck 5, Davis.
Mustangs (45) — Drew Zaleta 18, Anthony, Caio Hysinger 10, Hobbs, Savage, Cartwright, Jahmal Johnson 10, Patterson, Hunter 6, Lowe, Brownfield, Franklin 1.
3-pointers: McMinn County 2 (Sherrill, Arnwine); Walker Valley 6 (Zaleta 2, Johnson 2, Hunter 2).
Records: McMinn County 7-3, Walker Valley 1-5.