The Walker Valley Mustangs are looking forward to next year.
The Bears eliminated the Mustangs in the first round of the District 5-AAA tournament at BCHS by a final score of 73-50 Wednesday evening.
The Bears, who have continued to improve throughout the course of the season, will go again Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the semifinals against tonight’s Cleveland/Soddy-Daisy winner, also scheduled for 7:30.
“I don’t care who you are playing, elimination games are scary for coaches,” said Bears coach Kent Smith. “We were in such a good rhythm right before the district tournament meeting and then we had eight days off. You simulate what you can in practice, but it’s not game.”
The Bears benefited mainly in the second and third quarters from 26 Walker Valley turnovers and made good on the majority of conversions.
“That’s their game. They get you to do that (turn the ball over) and make quick decisions that are not always good ones,” said Mustangs coach Bob Williams.
“We knew it was going to be tough going in. Bradley is a good team and they do a good job, especially on the defensive end. They cause a lot of turnovers.”
Bradley Central fought Walker Valley for a 14-10 first-quarter lead and opened up offensively for 19 points in the second frame to lead 33-22 at halftime.
“I thought the first half we were playing hard, but we could have been up a little more than what we were. I told the guys to keep on working, but be smart in some of their decision making. I thought we got into a really good rhythm in the third quarter,” said Smith.
The Bears were hot from the floor hitting 60 percent from inside the arc. From behind the 3-point line, Bradley Central made good on 4-of-11 tries. From the free-throw line, the Bears were 13-of-22.
On the other end, Walker Valley hit 75 percent from the line, but were only given eight chances, making good on six.
“I’m not going to blame the referees for that, of course. But, as physical as they play, it is a puzzle to me that we don’t get to the free-throw line a little more than that,” Williams said. “But, we will be back next year.”
After going to their big man inside for eight points in the second quarter, the Mustangs put the ball back in the hands of their 6-foot-3 junior center Jackson Brownfield for the first four points of the third. But, it would not be enough. Brownfield was shut out the rest of the period and the Mustangs were held to only six points. Bradley Central piled in 22, essentially putting the game away.
Brownfield was the only Mustang to reach double figures, with 16 points.
Miles Morgan led the Bears with 18, and Hunter Chastain and Matthew Whitmire added 12 apiece.
“I thought our guys played hard and never quit. I’m proud of that fact,” said Williams.
“We talked about goals for next year. We aren’t losing anybody. Our goal is to be in the position Bradley is right now.”
The Bears will turn their focus to Saturday’s semifinal and a battle with either the Blue Raiders or Trojans. Smith said the Bears have a chance to make some noise in the coming weeks if they stay together and keep the momentum rolling.
“It was a good win. I’m glad we are going on. Survive and advance. That is what tournament play is all about. With all the stuff we’ve gone through, the injuries and people being out, we are in a good flow and I think everybody knows what their role is. It’s about winning,” said Smith. “I think this bunch could have a special next couple of weeks. We are wanting to go to Murfreesboro and it’s attainable if these guys stay together and work hard.”
Wednesday’s victory also punched Bradley’s ticket for next week’s Region 3-AAA Tournament.
BEARS 73, MUSTANGS 50
Walker Valley 10 12 6 22 — 50
Bradley Central 14 19 22 18 — 73
Mustangs (50) — Jackson Brownfield 16, Johnson 9, Hysinger 8, Cartwright 6, Anthony 2, Melton 2, Korn 2, Harwood, Godfrey, Swafford, Franklin, Russell, Morrow, Hunt.
Bears (73) — Miles Morgan 18, Hunter Chastain 12, Matthew Whitmore 12, Houston 9, Christian 8, Copeland 6, Johnson 3, Cox 3, Bentley.
3-point goals: Walker Valley 0; Bradley Central 4 (Houston, Christian, Cox, Chastain).
Records: Walker Valley 9-18; Bradley 23-5.