As is normal for the cross-county rivalry, Bradley Central and Walker Valley battled tooth-and-nail at “The Stable,” with game-high scorer Taylor Bentley splitting a pair of Mustangs’ defenders on a drive with four seconds remaining to give the Bears a thrilling 56-54 victory.
The Mustangs were able to get off a final shot, but senior Austin Harwood’s 3-point attempt from the corner dipped in and then out of the rim as the horn sounded.
“We had a great practice yesterday (Monday) and we really came together tonight for a great ‘team win,’” declared Bradley head coach Chuck Clark. “We had some guys come off the bench and do what they are supposed to do. We got some strong senior leadership, which is what you expect in this type situation.”
“Both teams played good. It came down to they made the last play,” remarked Mustang head coach Bob Williams. “The top four or five teams in the district can beat any of the others on any given night. Nobody’s going to get through the district again without two or three losses.”
“It was a great atmosphere and great crowd,” Williams added. “We expect the same every time we play them.”
Walker Valley (2-3, 0-1) has the tough task of a one-day turnaround as it’s game with Ooltewah (4-3, 1-0) has been moved up to Thursday evening, while Bradley (2-4, 1-0) will make a trip to Athens Friday to face McMinn County (1-4, 0-1).
The sees-saw action began from the opening tip Tuesday with five lead changes in the opening four minutes before Bradley closed out the first frame with a 13-4 run for the game’s biggest lead at 21-14.
After a near evenly fought second period, the difference still stood at a half dozen points (32-26) at the intermission.
In the all-important opening minutes of the second half, Walker Valley netted the first nine points of the third quarter forcing Clark to call a timeout with just over two minutes gone in the frame and his team suddenly behind by three points.
After the first-year head coach got his squad’s attention, the Bears responded with back-to-back 3-pointers by junior Daniel Clark, with a key steal by freshman Cole Copeland sandwiched between. Bradley pulled back up by five a moment later when senior Logan Cox dropped in a shot from the wing to complete an 8-0 run.
“That was a big stretch right there,” proclaimed Coach Clark. “Not only did Daniel hit the two 3s, but on that shot by Logan, we were trying to make them (WV) play defense and after we were able to move the ball around for 45 seconds to a minute, he (Cox) hit that 15-footer.”
Not ready to surrender, the Mustangs came galloping back with seven straight points of their own thanks to a 3-pointer by senior Logan Melton and a four-point play by classmate Brandon Crews to retake the lead.
After Bentley and Crews traded long-range bombs, in a preview of things to come, the Bears’ senior guard was able to get sink a driving jumper at the third period buzzer to even the score once again.
Crews opened the final frame with his fourth “3-ball” of the night, but the Bears clawed back with six straight points, including a hoop and some harm on a fast break for a three-point play by sophomore Bradley McCurdy to go back on top.
The hosts answered with a drive by 6-foot-6 senior Lukas Korn and a baseline drive by Crews to slide back into the lead with 103 ticks remaining.
The younger Clark hit a free throw at the 1:07 mark and then the 6-foot-2 junior came down to the other end of the court and blocked the next Mustang shot to give the ball back to the Bears with 40 seconds remaining.
After a timeout, the Bears successfully ran the clock down and got the ball into Bentley’s hands with 10 seconds to go for the final shot. The senior guard dribbled through the lane, slipped between a pair of Mustang defenders and was able to sink the shot.
After the referees put the clock back to four seconds, the Bears had a couple of fouls to give and did so to prevent a set play. But, on their final attempt the hosts got the ball into the corner to Melton who got off the potential winning shot just before the buzzer. When it didn’t fall, the Black-and-Gold contingent had something to celebrate.
Bentley, who drained 4-of-6 3-point attempts and the same amount of free throws, led all scorers with 22 points, plus he dished off a trio of assists. Cox and Clark each netted 10 points, with the former also pulling down five rebounds. Copeland collected seven points, two helps and a pair of steals, while McCurdy netted five points, cleared three boards and handed off two assists.
Crews, Harwood and Korn each netted double figures for the Mustangs with 15, 13 and 10 points respectively. Harwood and Korn also grabbed a half dozen caroms and handed out a pair of “dimes” apiece. Dustin Swafford cleaned the glass for seven rebounds and dropped in six points, while Melton garnered eight markers on the evening.
Like the score, the teams were very close across the board with Bradley claiming the rebound battle by a 21-20 margin, plus turned the ball over just five times to 11 for the hosts.
The Bears hit 14-of-26 shots from inside the 19-foot line, plus were 6-for-16 from “distance,” while the Mustangs went 7-for-17 from beyond the arc and made 11-of-19 from close range. Both teams sank 11 free throws on 13 attempts for the hosts and 16 for the visitors.
Bradley Central 21 11 13 11 — 56
Walker Valley 14 12 19 9 — 54
BEARS (56) — Taylor Bentley 22, Daniel Clark 10, Logan Cox 10, Cole Copeland 7, Bradley McCurdy 5, Ty Morgan 2, Dee Crisp, Tucker Maroon, Walker McGowan.
MUSTANGS (54) — Brandon Crews 15, Austin Harwood 13, Lukas Korn 10, Logan Melton 8, Dustin Swafford 6, Josh Jones 2, Logan Russell, Jim Williams, Jacob Herd, Colton Morrow.
3-POINTERS: Bradley 6 (Bentley 4, Clark 2); WV 7 (Crews 4, Melton 2, Harwood).
FREE THROWS: Bradley 11-of-16; WV 11-of-13.
RECORDS: Bradley Central 2-4, 1-0 District 5-AAA; Walker Valley 2-3, 0-1 District 5-AAA.