The Lady Raiders survived a less than stellar performance from the free-throw line in the night’s opener, but got a pair of crucial tosses in the final second to hold off a young but determined team of Lady Mustangs to take a 48-43 win.
Coaches Jason McCowan and Bob Williams sat side by side and chatted amicably as Blue Raiders’ coach McCowan operated the scoreboard during the junior varsity game as the varsity waited in the wings for their chance to take the court.
An hour and a half later, Williams and McCowan had stepped off the 10 paces and spent the next hour and a half sweating bullets as sharpshooters for the Blue Raiders and Mustangs took shots at each other for 32 minutes.
If the Mustangs hoped the return of leading Walker Valley scorer Hysinger would provide a spark and give them extra ammunition to throw at the Raiders, they were right. Hysinger, after missing several weeks with a dislocated shoulder, returned to action to lead the Mustangs with 16 points and provided an extra measure of defense to kept Cleveland more or less subdued for the better part of four quarters.
“Having Caio out there was a big help. He is still a little tender in his shoulder. It’s just his leadership out there. He was playing so well before he got hurt. I was surprised he did as well as he did. He is just a tough competitor,” Williams said of his young star.
Besides Hysinger, two more Mustangs, Jahmal Johnson and Gabe Cartwright, also reached double figures for Walker Valley, with 11 points each.
The zone defense Hysinger and teammates used to block the lane proved to be reasonably effective in slowing down the Raiders’ galloping style of offense. Cleveland, though winning by 14, never led by more than 12 until late against a Walker Valley team that has struggled without Hysinger’s presence.
“I don’t know if you can throw them off too much. They have so many different scorers. They have three really good outside shooters. You have to try and pick your poison right there. They do a good job of moving the ball around,” Williams said of the Blue Raiders’ arsenal.
The Blue Raiders, led by Jarod Rhodes’ 17 points, held only a five-point lead after the first quarter and were only up five as the first half came to a close before a Rhodes basket at the buzzer gave Cleveland a 40-33 advantage.
“It’s been a while since we have played and it seems like everything under the sun has happened since then. We’ve got a couple of kids at a football combine, we have a couple of kids who are dinged up and is seems like it has been forever since we have played,” said McCowan.
“I don’t think we were clicking on all cylinders, but I don’t think we played well at the Best of Preps either. We started shooting the ball better and [with] high school kids, it’s just across the board. The ball goes through the net, they start playing harder.”
Three other Raiders made it to double figures also. CJ Bryant hit the boards for 16 points, Kendrick Thompson added 14 and DJ Bowles booked 13 points in the win.
“I felt like we didn’t get very many good breaks the first half and told our guys the ball just didn’t bounce our way a few times. It bounced right into their hands and they got some easy ones,” McCowan acknowledged.
The Raiders, after hitting only 10-of-30 tries in the first half, were a bit more selective in the third quarter and built their halftime lead to 55-44 behind the 3-point shooting of Thompson, who scored nine points behind the arc.
“We got some real timely 3-pointers. They cut it to four at one point and I felt like we couldn’t get away from them. Once we did get away from them a little bit it made them kind of press offensively,” said a relieved McCowan.
Cleveland’s 11-point lead was quickly trimmed to seven early in the fourth quarter before back-to-back 3s from CJ Bryant put the Raiders back up by 12 with 3:38 left in the game. Cleveland added four more points before spreading the court and adding a final point from the free-throw line.
“With CJ and Kendrick shooting so well, it kind of took the pressure off of Jarod from having to do so much. He had a double-double in the first half. Their zone defense slowed us down a bit,” said McCowan.
Williams said the battle was a classic case of doing the little things right in order to reach a big goal.
“I thought the guys played hard. I told them in games like this all the little things, loose balls and extra rebounds, all the little things become so important in games against a talented team like Cleveland,” he said.
“We worked so hard and worked so hard, but some times you just come up empty. But, you’ve got to give credit to Cleveland. They finished it out. I thought our guys played hard too. But, you have got to match them blow-for-blow in a game like that. We turned it over and they hit a 3. That was a five-point swing right there. Cleveland can score so quick like that.”
Cleveland wound up the night hitting 44 percent from the floor (24-of-54). The Blue Raiders were 10-of-17 from the free-throw line and snagged 34 rebounds.
Walker Valley closed out making 18-of-45 tries from the court (40 percent) and went 9-of-13 from the stripe while bringing down 21 boards.
LADY RAIDERS 48,
LADY MUSTANGS 43
The Lady Raiders returned to the court after the Christmas break and quickly found they have a bit of work to do to regain their court legs in a hard-fought win over Walker Valley.
“It has been a long layoff. Tonight was no exactly what I wanted to see, but a win is a win. Our free-throw shooting has not been what we want it to be. We will just have to get back in the gym and shoot,” said Cleveland coach Mindy Kiser.
The Lady Raiders made good on only 9-of-21 tries from the line in the win.
Senior Lady Mustangs’ cornerstone Jessica Stepp provided the entire first-half scoring effort for the Lady Mustangs and kept the Lady Raiders from racing away to a blowout win with 13 points with nine coming from behind the 3-point line.
Lindsey Sotuyo added the other pair of points for Walker Valley in the first half and kept the Lady Mustangs close at 20-15.
“We rely on her (Stepp) so much. She is not a born leader, a natural leader. But, being in her position, she can be a natural at it. I think she played her tail off and led by example,” said Lady Mustangs coach Jessica Stone.
Stepp used her natural ability and finished the night with four 3s, and just missed two more when it was ruled her toes were on the line.
A rare basket from the paint with an added free throw by Stepp breathed life into the Walker Valley offense. The Lady Mustangs scored 13 third-quarter points to Cleveland’s 12 as the Lady Raiders struggled from the free-throw line.
After Nora Berry’s 3 to open the period, the Lady Raiders went 2-for-7 from the line and saw the Lady Mustangs cut it to 26-25 before a hard earned basket underneath from Sydnie Anderson. Jaclyn Griffin pulled the Lady Mustangs to within a single point with a trey but, a retaliatory 3 at the buzzer by Jenna Scoggins gave Cleveland a 32-28 lead.
Berry led the Lady Raiders with 14 points and also hit from behind the 3-point arc four times.
“I felt they (Walker Valley) are not as deep as she (Stone) wants them to be. I felt if we could get into their bench we could pressure them and get them to turn the ball over,” said Kiser.
The pressure paid dividends for the Lady Raiders as the occasional push and shove encumbrance caused 17 Walker Valley turnovers. The Lady Mustangs also used a close-quarters defense to cause 15 Cleveland giveaways.
The fourth quarter saw a shift in offensive momentum with the Lady Mustangs outscoring the Lady Raiders 13-5 to take a 39-38 lead with a tick under three minutes left in the game.
Berry gave the lead back to the Lady Raiders with a 3 and Anderson combine a 3 and a 2 to put Cleveland on top 46-41 with 1:26 left. Poor free-throw shooting continued to haunt the Lady Raiders who missed twice more from the line before Berry stepped up to hit a pair of tosses with 11 seconds to play icing the game for Cleveland.
“We had some goals we wanted to reach in the first half and didn’t do that,” Kiser stated afterward.
“Walker Valley is young and they have been set back with injuries and illness. They are going to be good. Coach Stone has done a great job and will continue to do a great job. I am proud of her.”
Stone said the Lady Mustangs continue to grow and are becoming more comfortable as a team.
“It is just a matter of confidence. They are a young group growing up and learning. They have done some game growing up and do everything we ask them to do. They are coming together beginning to come together and play for each other. They are making progress,” said Stone.
LADY RAIDERS 48, LADY MUSTANGS 43
Walker Valley 7 8 13 15 — 43
Cleveland 7 13 12 16 — 48
Walker Valley (43) — Jessica Stepp 20, Watson 6, Lawhorn 6, Sotuyo 6, Griffin 3, Macon 2, Davis.
Cleveland (48) — Sydnie Anderson 18, Nora Berry 14, Scoggins 5, Q. Abdullah-Muhammad 5, A. Abdullah-Muhammad 4, Ware, McClendon.
3-point goals: Walker Valley 5 (Stepp 4, Griffin); Cleveland 5 (Berry 4, Scoggins).
Records: Walker Valley 5-9, 1-2 District 5-3A; Cleveland 8-7, 3-2.
BLUE RAIDERS 66, MUSTANGS 52
Walker Valley 15 18 11 8 — 52
Cleveland 20 20 15 11 — 66
Walker Valley (52) — Caio Hysinger 16, Gabe Cartwright 11, Jahmal Johnson11, Brownfield 9, Melton 3, Morrow 2, Harwood, Korn.
Cleveland (66) — JaRod Rhodes 17, CJ Bryant 16, Kendrick Thompson 14, DJ Bowles 13, T. Rhodes 4, Morgan 2, Jones.
3-point goals: Walker Valley 6 (Johnson 3, Hysinger 2, Melton); Cleveland 8 (Thompson 4, Bryant 2, Bowles, Rhodes).
Records: Walker Valley 6-9, 0-4 District 5-3A; Cleveland 10-4, 5-0.