Walker Valley’s last three victories have had fantastic finishes for the Mustangs and tonight’s District 5-AAA Tournament championship game against cross-county rival Bradley Central promises to be another barn burner.
After the Bears beat their “little brothers” by a dozen points in January, the Mustangs got a 15-foot jumper by senior Caio Hysinger with 1.5 seconds on the clock 15 days ago to knock the “southsiders” out of a shot at a regular season district title and the No. 1 seed in the tournament.
Coming into the first postseason event, Walker Valley (17-11) was seeded fourth and needed a miracle comeback against No. 5 seed Rhea County in the opening round to avoid having its season come to a close.
Coach Bob Williams’ Stallions turned a six-point deficit into a five-point victory with a 12-1 run in the final two minutes last Friday to earn their first Region 3-AAA Tournament berth since their TSSAA state semifinal run in 2009.
Facing top-seeded Ooltewah in Saturday’s semifinals, Walker Valley felt confident after having pushed the Owls to overtime before falling by a point in the last meeting between the two teams.
The Mustangs matched the highly favored Ooltewah squad bucket for bucket until the score was tied 59-all with 10 seconds to go.
After a timeout, the Owls were able to get off a potential game-winning shot, but when the ball bounced off the rim, Hysinger came out of the scrum with the rebound, dribbled twice and let fly a 50-foot heave as the buzzer sounded that ricocheted off the backboard and through the net to vault Walker Valley into its third district title game since stepping up to Class AAA in 2005.
The Mustangs’ previous two title games were also against Bradley in 2008 and 2009, both won by the “north enders,” the first of which snapped a streak of six straight district crowns won by the Bears.
In coach Kent Smith’s 17 years at the Bear helm, the first of which was with Williams as his assistant coach, his squads have made the 5-AAA championship game 13 times, winning nine district titles, including last year.
Bradley has also won eight Region 3-AAA championships and advanced to the TSSAA substate 10 times. Under Smith’s tutelage, the Bears have also made five state tournament appearances, including runner-up finishes in 2000 and 2003.
Smith is the all-time Bear leader in coaching victories with a 424-143 mark (74.8 percent), including an 18-8 mark against Walker Valley. Williams has won 58.3 percent (162-116) in his nine years on the Mustang bench, but is just 7-16 against Bradley.
Third-seeded Bradley (16-11) came into this year’s tournament having dropped three of its last four games, but has bounced back with a pair of double-digit wins over two of its longest rivals — sixth-seeded McMinn County (61-47) and No. 2 Cleveland High (54-39).
By playing in tonight’s district championship game at the Raider Dome, both Walker Valley and the Bears will host region opening round games Saturday against either Cookeville (25-7) or Warren County (13-19), who meet tonight in the District 6-AAA third-place game.
Tipping off the local action at 6 this evening will be Cleveland (17-10) and Ooltewah (16-9), battling for the third time after splitting their regular season home-and-home matchups.
The Owls captured a 64-62 win in their last trip to the Raider Dome in mid-December, while Cleveland claimed a 68-60 victory at “The Barn” in late January.
The Blue Raiders and Owls will have to travel to either Cumberland County (16-15) or White County (19-10) for Saturday’s region openers, depending on tonight’s results here and in the District 6-AAA title game in Sparta.