The Lady Mustangs, the No. 3-ranked girls’ team in the state, displayed their maturity and experience in coming from behind in the fourth quarter for a 47-44 win over the challenging Lady Raiders.
The Cleveland boys parlayed speed, quickness and athleticism into a 72-58 triumph in the nightcap, but the Mustangs were once again competitive.
The girls game was completely different from an earlier meeting on the Walker Valley floor where the Lady Mustangs won in a breeze. Cleveland held the upper hand through a huge portion of the game.
Coach Rachel Moore was pleased with the performance of her Lady Raiders, and sympathized with their disappointment after the game. “They’re hurting right now,” she said outside the Cleveland locker room. “They lost a very close game, and they’re very competitive.
Walker Valley coach Jan Spangler said the Cleveland girls played great defense. “But, somehow we found a way to win,” she said.
Cleveland boys coach Jason McCowan said his Raiders “played hard” in beating the Mustangs. “But, we need to make better decisions on defense,” he added.
Walker Valley coach Bob Williams said Cleveland’s quickness and speed was what did his Mustangs in. “It’s no secret that they’re going to use their athletic ability and dribble offense,” he said after the game. “We know what they’re going to do, but we have to stop them.
“They also use a lot of people,” Williams said of the Raiders’ bench depth.
Cleveland and Walker Valley are both nearing the end of the regular season, with the district tournament only a couple of weeks away.
The Cleveland teams face 5-AA foe Ooltewah at home Friday, then travel to Ooltewah for a repeat match next Thursday. The Raiders and Lady Raiders will then close out the season Feb. 11 at powerful Knoxville West.
Walker Valley has four games remaining. The Mustangs and Lady Mustangs will be host to Soddy-Daisy Friday, journey to Polk County for a make-up game Monday, entertain Rhea County Tuesday and then end the season at home next Thursday against Blount County’s William-Blount Governors.
This game remained in doubt until very late in the fourth quarter. The Walker Valley girls surged ahead late, but turnovers gave Cleveland two scores to cut the margin to three points with just seconds left.
The Lady Raiders could not get closer.
The hard-fought victory pushes the Lady Mustangs to 19-1 on the year, with the highest state rating the team has ever reached. Walker Valley is unbeaten in District 5-AAA play at 10-0.
But on Tuesday night, the Lady Raiders held Walker Valley’s feet to the fire ... before the Lady Mustangs were able to escape the coals of an upset.
With Cleveland playing tight defense, and running the floor with newly found consistency, the Lady Raiders grabbed a 10-9 lead at the end of the first quarter on a rebound bucket by Qetuwrah Abdulla-Muhammad.
The two teams were level at 13, but Walker Valley ran off seven unanswered points for a 20-13 lead. The Lady Raiders bounced right back. They scored seven of the final nine points of the half and trailed by only two, 22-20.
Cleveland hit the first six points of the third quarter for a 26-22 lead. The Lady Raiders were ahead by four, 34-30, as the quarter was about to run out. A foul at the buzzer gave the Lady Mustangs three points to cut the gap to two, 34-32.
Walker Valley center Kayla Sewell, who had a solid performance for the Lady Mustangs, scored a bucket off a feed from guard Jordan Neuharth at the 5:40 mark of the fourth quarter for a 36-35 lead for the visitors. Reserve Jessica Stepp followed with a two-point bucket from the side for a 38-35 lead, and the Lady Mustangs never trailed again.
Still, the Lady Raiders hung tough. Jordan Neuharth scored on a driving layup and a field goal for a six-point lead, 46-40, with 45 seconds left.
Abdullah-Muhammad got a steal and put-back, and Noraziah Berry got two free throws for Cleveland to once again cut the gap to two points, 46-44.
A free throw by Sewell, with 19 seconds left, proved to be the final point of the game.
Jordan Neuharth scored 16 points for game honors, and directed the Walker Valley attack with her valuable experience. Sewell played well inside and finished the game with 12 points.
Cleveland also had two main point producers. Berry led the way with 13 and Abdullah-Muhammad was a field goal back with 11.
Spangler said the tough win was a good lesson for her girls. “We had good opportunities to run the floor, but we couldn’t get it down,” she said. “We need to be more mentally and physically tough.”
Cleveland’s coach Moore hopes her Lady Raiders can take something positive from the way they played, despite the loss. “Every game, every week, we’re cutting down on our mistakes,” she said in emphasizing how her girls are improving as the season nears an end.
It was a very competitive game, but marred by mistakes at times (from both teams). It often seemed like both squads were in a hurry to get to tournament time.
Guard D.J. Bowles guided the Cleveland offense and paced all scorers with 19 points. He helped to get the Raiders well in front in the second quarter as the Cleveland defense proved stingy, allowing only 10 points. Bowles finished the first half with 16 points and three 3-pointers.
The host Raiders raced ahead by 14 points at intermission, 43-29.
The Cleveland lead ballooned to 20 points in the third quarter, 55-35, but the Mustangs never slowed down on their effort.
Walker Valley chopped into Cleveland’s lead late in the third quarter, cutting the margin to 12 early in the fourth quarter, 63-51.
The Raiders then re-established a 19-point lead, 72-53. The Mustangs once again cut the margin in the final quarter, but could never get within 10 points.
Cleveland displayed a balanced scoring attack, paced by Bowles’ 19. Tevin Rutledge added 14 points to the Raiders’ total, while Jarod Rhodes got 12, Rondazz Mee 11 and B.J. Davis 10.
Walker Valley also had some scoring balance. Jahmal Johnson matched Bowles’ scoring with 19 points as the two shared game honors. Joseph Lowe contributed 13 points and high-scoring guard Drew Zaleta was limited to 12 with no 3-pointers.
The Mustangs had only two 3-pointers, both from Johnson. Cleveland hit on seven from long range, three by Bowles and two each from Rutledge and Davis.
Coach McCowan said the big key to the win was holding Walker Valley to only 10 points in the second quarter. “It was big,” he said. “It allowed us to play more comfortably.”
Walker Valley’s Williams felt his team also played hard. They continued to make some little runs in the second half, but couldn’t make that really big run to catch the Raiders.
n The Cleveland junior varsity scored a victory in the late-afternoon preliminary.
The young Raiders pulled away late for a 50-46 win, getting 17 points from Shun Qualls and 12 from David Morgan. Tucker Godfrey paced Walker Valley with 13 points.
LADY MUSTANGS 47, LADY RAIDERS 44
Walker Valley 9 13 9 16 — 47
Cleveland 10 10 14 10 — 44
Lady Mustangs (47) — Jordan Neuharth 16, Allen 3, Kayla Sewell 12, T. Neuharth 7, Terpstra 5, Stepp 2, Sotuyo 2.
Lady Raiders (44) — A. Abdulla-Muhammad 6, Perkins, Qetuwrah Abdulla-Muhammad 11, Langford 6, Capron 4, Noraziah Berry 13, Anderson 4.
3-pointers: Walker Valley 3 (J. Neuharth, T. Neuharth, Terpstra).
Records: Walker Valley 19-1 and 10-0 in District 5-AAA; Cleveland 10-10 and 4-5 in 5-AAA.
BLUE RAIDERS 72, MUSTANGS 58
Walker Valley 19 10 16 13 — 58
Cleveland 24 19 18 11 — 72
Mustangs (58) — Drew Zaleta 12, Anthony 2, Hysinger 2, Cartwright 4, Jahmal Johnson 19, Foy 4, Joseph Lowe 13, Brownfield 2.
Raiders (72) — Qualls, Tevin Rutledge 14, Upton 2, Rondazz Mee 11, D.J. Bowles 19, Jarod Rhodes 12, B.J. Davis 10, Hiddleson 4, Ronzell Robinson.
3-pointers: Walker Valley 2 (Johnson 2); Cleveland 7 (Bowles 3, Rutledge 2, Davis 2).
Records: Walker Valley 3-17 and 1-9 in 5-AAA; Cleveland 15-6 and 6-5 in 5-AAA.