Senior starters Austin Harwood, Logan Melton, Lukas Korn, Brandon Crews and Dustin Swafford, with freshman Bryce Nunnelly the first player off the bench, have given the Mustangs a late-season spark, leading them to their first TSSAA Sectional Game, since the 2008-09 season, when Williams led his team to the state semifinals.
“Although we play a different style than what we played then, these guys have a lot of similarities to that team,” declared the coach after the 67-50 victory over the Bears. “They have bought into the ‘team concept’ we want and they have a will to win.”
Making a second straight run from a fourth-place seed going into the district tournament, the Mustangs have galloped through the competition to claim back-to-back 5-AAA crowns and this year have taken it a step further by advancing to the region finals Thursday evening at Stone Memorial.
“Thursday is huge. The two teams (second-ranked Siegel and eighth-ranked Blackman) coming out of the other region (4-AAA) are very tough and you don’t want to have to play them in Murfreesboro for a substate game,” Coach Williams related.
Walker Valley (23-9) will tangle with Stone Memorial (26-6) Thursday at Cookeville High School for the region title at 8 p.m., plus the right to host a sectional game Monday.
Bradley started Tuesday’s game strong, netting eight of the first 10 points.
Although Crews drained a pair of 3-pointers and a jumper from the lane to pull Walker Valley back into the hunt, the Bears still led 13-10 at the first buzzer.
The Black-and-Gold squad put up another 13 points in the second eight-minute span, but this time the Stallions from the north end of the county stayed a little closer with a dozen of their own for a 26-22 halftime score.
“Bradley had the momentum early and we sure didn’t want to play from behind against them in the fourth quarter because they run their offense so well, it makes it hard to catch up,” commented Coach Williams. “We told our guys at half that we had played as poorly as we could have. We have to go back out and play our game and we did.”
After the intermission, the Mustangs stampeded on a 19-4 third period run to take command of the contest with a double-digit lead (41-30), going into the final frame.
Both offenses were running at high speed in the fourth period, combining for 46 points in eight minutes, with Walker Valley holding the edge once again by a 26-20 margin.
The Mustangs ripped the cords at a 54 percent pace, sinking 14-of-25 shots from in front of the 19-foot arc and half of their 10 long-range bombs. They were also 24-for-32 at the free-throw line, plus won the rebounding battle by a 25-18 margin.
The Bears, on the other hand, got off 57 shots in the 32-minute contest, but only knocked down 16-of-38 (42 percent) from close range and went 4-for-19 from distance. Bradley was just 6-of-12 at the charity stripe, but turned the ball over just nine times, compared to 15 for Walker Valley.
Crews led the Walker Valley attack with 20 points, including four 3-pointers, while Korn pumped in 15 of his 17 in the final two frames. Korn also blocked three shots, all in the final frame.
“Lukas only had a pair of free throws in the first half, plus he got into some quick foul trouble, so in the second half we wanted to get the ball to him more down low and let him do his thing,” commented Coach Williams of his 6-foot-6 post who went a perfect 7-for-7 at the free-throw line.
Senior Taylor Bentley, who had a pair of game-winning last second shots against Walker Valley during the regular season, led the Bears with 18 points, while freshman Cole Copeland collected 15, to go with seven rebounds.
Bradley, which had played in the last two TSSAA substate games, finishes its season at 16-12, including the 5-AAA regular season title as longtime assistant coach Chuck Clark won District Coach of the Year honors, after taking over the head coaching duties just a couple of weeks before the season began when veteran Kent Smith took a leave of absence.
Region 3-AAA boys semifinals
Bradley Central 13 13 4 20 — 50
Walker Valley 10 12 19 26 — 67
BLUE RAIDERS (50) — Taylor Bentley 18, Cole Copeland 15, Clark 7, McCurdy 5, Morgan 2, Gregory 1, Crisp, McGowan.
MUSTANGS (67) — Brandon Crews 20, Lukas Korn 17, Harwood 9, Nunnelly 8, Swafford 7, Herd 3, Hunt 2, Melton 1, , Morrow, Montgomery..
3-Point Goals: Bradley 4 (Bentley 2, Copeland, McCurdy); WV 5 (Crews 4, Herd).
Free Throws: Bradley 6-of-12; WV 24-of-32.
Records: Bradley Central 16-12; Walker Valley 23-9.