But a trip to the state basketball tournament was made more difficult after a loss to Stone Memorial in the Region 3-AAA championship Thursday night at Cookeville High School.
The Panthers (27-6) jacked up seven first-half 3-pointers, and added four more in the second half, cruising to a relatively easy 72-54 win over the Mustangs (23-10).
The loss puts Walker Valley on the road to Middle Tennessee Monday to face Region 4 champion Siegel. Stone Memorial will host Region 4 runner-up Blackman.
“We didn’t do a good job of guarding,” said Mustangs coach Bob Williams. “We came out with a zone and we were leaving people open, then we went man and they were still beating us off the dribble. On our close-out we weren’t getting our hands up at all.”
The Mustangs, who played from behind the entire game, fell into an early hole in falling behind by 14 in the first quarter. The Panthers zeroed in from 3-point range midway through the first, scoring nine of their 21 first-quarter points from behind the line. Walker Valley junior Austin Harwood fought through the Stone Memorial stone wall for seven points and was one of three Mustangs to score 14 points.
Tournament MVP Tyler Yoder scored 18 for Stone Memorial with four other Panthers reaching double figures.
The 3-point barrage continued for Stone Memorial in the second. The Panthers answered a Brandon Crews 3 with four from outside the arc in a 20 point quarter. Crews followed up with nine more points including another 3 to help the Mustangs put 17 more on the scoreboard before the half.
Trailing 41-28 at the break, Walker Valley headed into the locker room looking to make some second-half adjustments in an effort to slow down the streaking Panthers.
“We just wanted to try and get a few stops,” Williams said of the halftime adjustments. “The first half we gave up 41 points and our defense was just really poor. We haven’t run into a team that had four or five guys that could shoot like that. We’ve had teams in our district that had one or two guys that could shoot like that, but not four or five that can shoot 3s. That’s tough to guard in either man or zone.”
The Walker Valley defense tightened somewhat in the third, with the Mustangs holding the Panthers to 16. Offensively, Walker Valley found the trip to the hoop difficult, scoring only two points in the first four minutes of the third quarter. The Mustangs picked it up in the latter stages of the third with a dozen points but still found themselves with a lot of digging to do.
Dustin Swafford cut the Stone Memorial lead to 14 with one of the few open looks under the basket to open the fourth quarter. The Mustangs followed with a 5-0 run to cut the Panters’ advantage to 60-48 with 4:42 left to play. A 2-point goal nullified by a traveling call squashed the rally and opened the door for a 10-0 Stone Memorial run that put the dagger in the hear of the Mustangs, who fell behind by 22 with just over two minutes left on the clock.
“We’ve just got to regroup. We’re still alive,” said Williams, already contemplating strategy for the Mustangs’ next game. “We’re going to have a tough test on Monday. Our goal tonight was to try to get back home and we didn’t do that. I told them this is no time to hang their heads. I know we didn’t play good, but we’ve got to regroup; there’s a big reward for winning on Monday.”
Crews, Harwood and Korn were All-Tournament selections for the Mustangs. Cleveland’s Kendrick Thompson and Jake Gibson, and Bradley Central’s Cole Copeland and Taylor Bentley were also singled out for the honor. Luke Matthews, Justin Simmons and Yoder were chosen from Stone Memorial with Yoder named tournament MVP.
PANTHERS 72, MUSTANGS 54
Walker Valley 11 17 13 13 — 54
Stone Memorial 21 20 16 15 — 72
Walker Valley (54) — Austin Harwood, 14, Lukas Korn 14, Brandon Crews 14, Swafford 6, Nunnelly 4, Jones 2, Melton, Herd, Morrow, Williams, Hunt.
Stone Memorial (72) — Tyler Yoder 18, Brandon Thomas 14, Mitchell ball 13, Justin Simmons 12, Gage Spencer 10, Matthews 5, Orme, Heilmier, Hill, Russell.
3-point goals: Walker Valley 3 (Crews 2, Swafford); Stone Memorial 11 (Ball 4, Yoder 3, Thomas 2, Spence, Simmons).
Records: Walker Valley 23-10; Stone Memorial 27-6.