Friday night, one Walker Valley team rose up and the other received an emphatic wake-up call as Mustangs and Lady Mustangs kicked off District 5-AAA basketball play by hosting a surging pair of Rhea County teams.
Walker Valley’s boys welcomed in new Rhea head coach Mike Phillips and his undefeated Golden Eagles. A thrilling back-and-forth battle ensued, and in the end the Mustangs were able to grab a very important 63-57-win heading into a gauntlet of district games.
On the girl’s side of the ball, Walker Valley’s struggles continued as Rhea’s Lady Golden Eagles remained undefeated by knocking off the Lady Mustangs by a score of 63-45.
Mustangs 63, Eagles 57
It was easy to see the increased level of excitement in Rhea County as a rowdy student section came out to the “Stable” to cheer on an Eagle team that is off to a hot start under former Plant High School (Tampa, Fla.) coach Phillips.
“It was fun out there tonight. We had a good crowd out here. They had a fired up student section. That was just an all around good first district game for us,” stated Walker Valley head coach Bob Williams.
Five lead changes kept fans on their feet, and with no team gaining more than a 10-point advantage through the entire game no lead was safe.
The Mustangs kicked things off by jumping out to a six-point lead early. Rhea battled back, mainly on the shoulders of senior standout Jalen Smith who led all scoring with 27 points on the night.
But, Walker Valley’s combination of senior big man Jackson Brownfield and speedster point guard Caio Hysinger was clicking for a number of points in the paint. Meanwhile, Tucker Godfrey put on a scoring display down the stretch to lead the team with 17 points.
“Caio and Jackson have played together for so long that they just kind of know what each other are going to do. Tucker was good for us tonight, and we had a bunch of guys who did a bunch of other little things to help us,” said Williams.
Going into the half, the ’Stangs led by a slim 28-25 margin, but it was evident to everyone gathered that neither the Golden Eagles nor their fans were going anywhere.
Quick hands on defense helped change the game during third quarter play. Numerous Walker Valley strips and steals held Rhea to just eight points through the quarter, allowing the Mustangs to take a 40-33 lead going into the fourth, the largest point difference all game.
Trips to the charity stripe spelled doom for the Eagles in the fourth quarter as a pair of technical fouls and numerous other fouls sent Walker Valley shooters to the line for 22 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter alone.
While 22 shots might have gone up, only a dozen made their way to the scoreboard, highlighting an area of improvement for the Mustangs moving forward.
“We are still making a few mistakes. Down the stretch we need to be making those free throws to close the game out, really shut the door. That’s something we have to do a better job with,” Williams expressed.
“But, all things considered, we played a good high energy game tonight. I told the guys that at home, we need to win these close contentious games. We have to protect our home court. I wasn’t sure what to expect with Rhea’s new coach. He seems like he’s doing a pretty good job,” stated Williams.
For his part, coach Phillips is impressed by what he sees in the district so far.
“This looks to be a well coached district. It’s very athletic. I think it’s going to be a very competitive district. Obviously, Walker Valley is the first team that I’ve seen, but my impression is that we can be competitive in what appears to be a very skilled district.”
Lady Eagles 63,
Lady Mustangs 45
Lady Mustang head coach Jessica Stone called it a “wake-up call” after her squad took their third 15-plus points loss this season.
“We need to re-evaluate a lot of different things. Obviously, right now what we are trying to do isn’t working. I just continue to feel like one of our biggest problems is inconsistency. I feel like we lack the kind of energy we need until we are already too far down,” stated Stone.
Last season Walker Valley’s girls began league play with a 58-33 lop-sided loss to county rival Bradley Central. Stone said after that loss the team came together and gelled moving forward, a situation she hopes is repeated this season.
The Lady Mustangs got off to a solid start, gaining an early 7-2 lead on the back of stout defense, but a shift in momentum cause by back-to-back-to-back turnovers allowed Rhea to creep back into the game and then run away with it.
At the break, the score stood at a still reasonable 31-21, but a Lady Mustang five-point third quarter was the final nail in the coffin as the Lady Eagles stayed perfect on the young season with the 63-45 win.
Victoria Jones and Jaclyn Griffith led Walker Valley scoring with 10 points. Eight of Jones’ points came in the fourth quarter as she tried to shoot her squad back into the ball game.
Both squads will need to be at their best this coming week as the Mustang squads face a pair of district games this week, going to McMinn County on Tuesday to face the Cherokees before hosting Ooltewah on Friday night at the “Stable.”
Rhea County 19 12 11 21 — 63
Walker Valley 11 10 5 19 — 45
LADY EAGLES — Julie Brown 14. Whitney Thompson 10, Amber Levi 19, Loden 4, Revis 3, Miles 9, Thurman 4.
LADY MUSTANGS — Victoria Jones 10, Pitner 5, Davis 2, Beavers 2, Macon 9, Griffith 10, Alomar 4.
3-POINTERS: Rhea 4 (Revis, Brown 2, Levi); Walker Valley 2 (Jones 2, Pitner, Griffith).
FREE THROWS: Rhea 21-of-29; Walker Valley 9-of-12.
RECORDS: Rhea 4-0, 1-0 District 5-AA; Walker Valley 2-5, 0-1 District 5-AAA.
Rhea County 10 15 8 24 — 57
Walker Valley 12 16 12 23 — 63
GOLDEN EAGLES — Jalen Smith 27, Hill 2, Harrison 8, N. Patterson 2, D. Patterson 2, Nick McWherter 10, Opperman 4, Jenkins 2..
MUSTANGS — Tucker Godfrey 17, Jackson Browfield 12, Harwood 7, Hysinger 9, Melton 8, Cartwright 5, Korn 2, Morrow 3.
3-POINTERS: Rhea 6 (Smith 6); Walker Valley 4 (Godfrey 2, Morrow, Melton).
FREE THROWS: Rhea 9-of-11; Walker Valley 19-of-31.
RECORDS: Rhea 3-1, 0-1 District 5-AAA; Walker Valley 5-2, 0-1 District 5-AAA.