Polk County Wildkittens’ head coach Johnny Hayes said before Monday night’s game that he knew it would be tough going early on for his 5-AA squad as they faced some upper division competition before entering district play.
He went on to say that this early in the season he was mainly concerned with seeing improved effort and fire out on the hardwood, two qualities his athletes showed in spades Monday night as they traveled to Walker Valley to face the Wildkittens.
For their part, Walker Valley was coming off two hard-fought losses in the Heritage Thanksgiving Classic over the holiday weekend, and the Lady Mustangs needed everything they could muster to hold off the squad visiting from Benton last night.
The Wildkittens were a far cry from the team that scored just three points in the opening half of their season opener against Tellico Plains.
In fact, the visitors went on an impressive 8-2 run early to put the Lady Mustangs on the defensive.
“We fought hard out there tonight, and that’s all I can ask of these girls. These last couple games, I didn’t feel like we were getting the effort that we needed, but they really turned it on tonight,” expressed Polk head coach Johnny Hayes.
But, Walker Valley responded with a 16-6 run of its own to grab the 19-14 lead back as the first quarter came to a close.
The back-and-forth continued in the second quarter with the Lady Mustangs extending the lead to 30-15 before Polk County came back with a spurt of momentum to end the first half with a score of 34-32.
“We were just so inconsistent tonight. It makes my blood pressure go up,” joked Lady Mustang head coach Jessica Stone.
“It’s still all about inconsistency. Sometimes we talk to each other; sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we rebound; sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we have tons of energy; sometimes we have none.”
The third quarter saw the energy shift back to the home side as Walker Valley once again built a sizable lead down the stretch, finishing the period with an eight point advantage.
Entering the final quarter of the thriller, it was still anyone’s game, and with two minutes left to play the teams found themselves within a single point of each other.
However, the Lady Mustangs iced the game from the charity stripe, going 11-for-12 in the fourth quarter to prevent one final comeback from happening.
“We were so solid from the line, which is really nice to see. We have struggled in the past few games with free-throw shooting. We lose that game if we don’t hit those free throws,” stated Stone.
When the buzzer finally sounded, Walker Valley was able to walk off the floor with a 72-64 win, and despite the loss, Polk County found the spark and effort it desperately needed going into district play at the end of the week.
“In the end, we played hard. We new it was going to be a tough game. Walker Valley is a great program. But, I was really encouraged by what I saw tonight. Hopefully, it’s what we needed going forward,” said Hayes.
Jaclyn Griffith led Walker Valley with 21 points. Emily Wilson was top scorer for Polk County with 28 of her own.
Mustangs 65, Wildcats 17
It wasn’t pretty on the boys’ side of the night as Polk County had no answer for either Walker Valley’s offense or defense.
Both head coaches (Rusty Brewer for Polk and Bob Williams for Walker Valley) declined comment after the lopsided affair.
The Mustangs were able to use the opportunity to play a number of younger players off the bench. The Wildcats, on the other hand, will be forced to look ahead to Friday’s game against Sequoyah as they still hunt for their first win of the season.
Tucker Godfrey led the scoring with 13 points.
Walker Valley will take the floor again tonight as both teams travel to McMinn Central High School to face the Chargers and Lady Chargers.
Polk County will have a few days off before traveling to Sequoyah on Friday for the first District 5-AA game of its season.