COLLEGEDALE — It was “déjà vu all over again” as Walker Valley came into the District 5-AAA Boys Basketball Tournament as the No. 4 seed, but went home as champions.
“Having done the same thing last year, gave us a lot of confidence coming into the tournament that we could do it again,” declared head coach Bob Williams after the exciting 68-63 victory over rival Cleveland High. “The guys (Mustang players) kept telling me, we were going to do it again.”
Both the Mustangs (21-9) and Blue Raiders (17-8) have won 13 of their last 15 games, but Walker Valley’s current 10-game winning streak includes two victories over Cleveland in an eight-day span.
“Everybody at Media Day (before the season began) was talking about whoever played the best at the end of the season would win the tournament and that’s what it came down to,” Coach Williams remarked. “Teams should be playing their best now. For us, our guys have really bought into the “team” concept. Throughout the season we had seven different players lead us in scoring. We are not about the individuals, we are about the team.”
Claiming back-to-back district titles for the first time since 2008 and 2009, Walker Valley will host Cumberland County (11-18) Saturday evening in the opening round of the Region 3-AAA Tournament.
The Raiders will also be at home to open region play Saturday at Cleveland Middle School against White County (22-7), which shot down the Jets 72-38 in the District 6-AAA consolation game Tuesday.
After losing four of its previous half dozen games, Bradley Central (15-11) looked like the Bears who won 10 straight district games to claim the 5-AAA regular season title Tuesday evening with a 67-54 win over Ooltewah (15-11) in consolation action.
The Bears will open the region tournament Saturday by traveling to the loser between Cookeville (21-8) or Stone Memorial (23-6), which will battle for the 6-AAA crown this evening. Ooltewah will face the Cavalier-Panther victor the same night.
The Region 3-AAA semifinals and championship games will be played at Cookeville High School Feb. 24-27.
In girls region matchups, 5-AAA champion Bradley Central (21-5) will host Rhea County (22-8), the 6-AAA fourth seed, Friday evening at 7 in Jim Smiddy Arena. Cookeville (14-16) will travel to 5-AAA runner-up McMinn County (11-17) Friday as well.
The Walker Valley (19-11) and Cleveland (13-14) girls will travel to either White County (21-6) or Cumberland County (25-4), depending on the outcome of tonight’s 6-AAA title tilt. The Lady Mustangs will journey to the losers’ home court, while the Lady Raiders will battle on the winner’s hardwood. Both games will tip off at 8 Friday evening.
District 5-AAA Boys Championship
BLUE RAIDERS 63
After snapping Cleveland’s 11-game winning streak in the final regular season game, Walker Valley knew the Raiders would be looking for payback Tuesday with the district title on the line.
The Mustangs came out of the gate on a full gallop, netting the game’s first six points and leading 16-10 before District Co-Player of the Year Kendrick Thompson drained his second 3-pointer of the period to trim the lead to just three points at the first horn.
When Thompson hit a jumper from the lane to open the second frame, the difference was just a point.
The teams actually traded the lead four times throughout the period before Walker Valley edged back in front with a driving basket by senior Austin Harwood and an long-range bomb from Colton Morrow with four ticks on the clock for a 32-28 halftime advantage.
The Mustangs started the second half just like they did the first, scoring the first half dozen points to push the difference to double digits.
After being held at bay for most of the quarter, Cleveland rallied to score the final nine points to knot the score at 44-all heading into the final eight-minute span.
After both teams had found the bottom of the net twice to open the fourth period, Walker Valley went on a quick 7-0 run to put a little distance between them.
While the Raiders fought back to pull within four points three times, that was as close as they would come as the Mustangs sank 9-of-12 free throws in the game’s final 2 1/2 minutes to lock up the title.
“Give Cleveland credit. They fought us the whole way. They never let up. I never felt it was over until it was over,” proclaimed Coach Williams.
For the third straight game, the Mustang offense saw four players net double figures.
Harwood dropped in 12 of his team-high 17 in the second half. He also pulled down five rebounds and dished off four assists.
Brandon Crews pumped in 15 points, had a trio of caroms and two helps, while Lukas Korn had a double-double with 14 markers and 10 ricochets.
Harwood, Crews and Korn, all seniors, were each named to the All-District and All-Tournament teams.
Senior point guard Logan Melton drained a pair of opening-period 3-pointers on his way to 11 markers on the evening.
As a team, Walker Valley shot 62 percent (18-for-29) from in front of the arc, 36 percent (5-of-14) beyond it, plus drained 17-of-21 free throws (81 percent).
Cleveland, on the other hand, got off more shots from both the field and the stripe, but didn’t connect as well. The Raiders went 14-for-30 (46 percent) from two-point land, 7-of-19 (37 percent) from downtown and just 14-for-22 (63 percent) from the charity line.
“We had too many missed opportunities,” bemoaned Cleveland head coach Jason McCowan. “We didn’t get stops down the stretch when we needed them. We missed too many free throws. A couple of times, while we were switching our press we left some people open and they found them.”
“You can’t make mistakes like that in the last period of a close game,” he added. “Walker Valley is the most well-rounded team in the district, and you can’t give them those kind of opportunities.”
Finishing the three Raider tournament games with 85 points, Thompson led all scorers Tuesday with 29, including a trio of “treys.” He also had four rebounds, two steals and blocked a shot.
Jake Gibson also drained three shots from beyond the 19-foot arc for nine Raider points.
Thompson and Gibson were joined by TyQwan Ware on the All-Tournament Team, while both Cantrel and TyQwan Ware joined Thompson on the regular season All-District squad.
District 5-AAA Boys Consolation Game
Having split their two regular season matchups, Bradley and Ooltewah played an almost even first three periods before the Bears exploded in the fourth.
The teams combined for 41 first quarter points with the Bears leading 22-19 when the horn sounded, but then they both netted just nine markers in the second frame.
The Owls trimmed the difference to a single point (44-43) heading into the final eight minutes.
Ooltewah took just its second lead of the contest when Co-District Player of the Year Ben Snider hit the opening bucket of the final period, but the next dozen points were canned by Bears.
Bradley added to its lead with a 6-2 spurt to go up by 16 with just over two minutes remaining before claiming the 13-point victory.
The Bears dominated the backboards by a 38-15 rebounding advantage, plus hit 22-of-39 shots (56 percent) from close range and half of their eight 3-point tries.
Ooltewah made more long-range shots (10-of-31) than two-pointers (9-of-22) in the contest.
“We have always been a man-to-man (defense) team, but tonight we confused them by playing zone,” commented District Coach of the Year Chuck Clark. “We played four different zones in the first half, but a 2-3 zone the entire second half.”
“We told the guys to play hard or they weren’t going to play,” the first-year Bear head coach expressed. “We aren’t as athletic as a lot of teams, so we have to play hard, hustle and go all out. We played with a lot of heart and used our heads tonight.”
Bradley had a balanced scoring attack with freshman Cole Copeland posting a double-double with 10 of his game-high 19 points coming in the opening period, plus he cleared 13 rebounds, handed out a trio of assists and blocked a shot.
“Cole isn’t a freshman anymore. He has a whole season under his belt and played a great game tonight,” Coach Clark praised.
Junior Daniel Clark helped out with 17 points, while senior Taylor Bentley netted 16, grabbed five boards, copped three steals, blocked a pair of shots and handed out a couple of helps.
Both Bentley and Clark were named to the All-District and All-Tournament teams.
“We had good, balanced scoring tonight, plus we got a boatload of rebounds,” the Bear coach commented.
District 5-AAA Boys Championship
Cleveland 13 15 16 19 — 63
Walker Valley 16 16 12 24 — 68
BLUE RAIDERS (63) — Kendrick Thompson 29, Gibson 9, C. Ware 8, Beaty 6, Scott 5, T. Ware 4, Brown 2, Vecchio,Tatum, Muniz.
MUSTANGS (68) — Austin Harwood 17, Brandon Crews 15, Lukas Korn 14, Logan Melton 11, Morrow 6, Nunnelly 3, D. Swafford 2, Herd, Jones.
3-Point Goals: Cleveland 7 (Thompson 3, Gibson 3, Scott); WV 5 (Melton 2, Morrow 2, Crews).
Free Throws: Cleveland 14-of-22; WV 17-of-23.
Records: Cleveland 17-8; Walker Valley 21-9.
District 5-AAA Boys Consolation
Ooltewah 19 9 15 11 — 54
Bradley Central 22 9 13 23 — 67
OWLS (54) — Ron King 18, Ben Snider 13, Edward Montgomery 11, Johnson 6, Boyd 6, Ross, Freeman, Jones.
BEARS (67) — Cole Copeland 19, Daniel Clark 17, Taylor Bentley 16, Gregory 6, Crisp 4, McCurdy 3, Morgan 2, Cox.
3-Point Goals: Ooltewah 10 (King 6, Montgomery 2, Johnson, Snider); BC 4 (Copeland 2, Bentley, Clark).
Free throws: Ooltewah 4-of-7; BC 9-of-13.
Records: Ooltewah 15-11; Bradley Central 15-11
All-District 5-AAA Team
Co-Players of the Year — Kendrick Thompson (Cleveland) and Ben Snider (Ooltewah); Tyler Bentley (Bradley), Daniel Clark (Bradley); Brandon Crews (WV), Lukas Korn (WV), Austin Harwood (WV); TyQwan Ware (Cleveland), Cantrel Ware (Cleveland); Kenny Burton (EH); Robbie Saxton (MC);Tucker Ladnreth (SD); Coach of the Year — Chuck Clark (Bradley).
All-District 5-AAA Tournament Team
Lukas Korn (WV), Austin Harwood (WV), Brandon Crews (WV); Kendrick Thompson (Cleveland), TyQwan Ware (Cleveland), Jake Gibson (Cleveland); Taylor Bentley (Bradley), Daniel Clark (Bradley); Ben Snider (Ooltewah), Jarred Boyd (Ooltewah); Kenny Burton (EH), Caleb Martin (MC), James York (SD).