CLEVELAND, Tenn. – Ooltewah wasn’t about to let Tuesday’s game come down to a miracle shot.
Junior Daaron Maston was 8-for-8 from the field, led all scorers with 22 points and powered the Owls to an impressive 69-57 victory over Walker Valley at Cleveland High School to earn a crack at their second straight Region 3-AAA basketball tournament championship.
“My first four or five shots went in, I just kept shooting and they all went in,” said Maston, a 6-foot-2-inch guard. He was 2-for-2 from the free-throw line.
With the win Ooltewah (19-9) moved into Thursday’s championship game against Bradley Central (18-12) – it will be a replay of last year’s title game at Cumberland County High School in Crossville. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
At this stage of the season, any home game is a plus.
With another standing-room-only crowd jamming the Raider Dome, the Bears defeated rival Cleveland, 63-55, marking the first time since 2002-03 Bradley had won three times on the Blue Raiders’ home court. Senior Bryce Copeland and sophomore Daniel Clark, who came up big in the second half, led Bradley Central with 22 and 13 points, respectively.
The two finalists earned spots in Monday’s sub-state round and will be paired against Region 4 powers Blackman (28-0) and Siegel (27-4). Region champions play at home and runners-up hit the road. Blackman smacked Oakland, 53-33, and Siegel beat LaVergne, 77-61, in the Region 4-AAA semifinals.
Ooltewah won 3-of-4 games against Walker Valley this season.
“Winning tonight feels good,” Owls senior point guard Antonio Jackson said, “but I want to make it to state one more time.”
The Region 3-AAA girls championship game between seventh-ranked Bradley Central (27-2) and White County (20-11) is set for Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Bradley Central, which has won nine in a row and 15 of 16, defeated the Warriorettes twice during the season by 17 and 11 points.
White County, 5-7 all-time against Bradley Central, beat the Bearettes in a sub-state clash in the final game of legendary coach Jim Smiddy’s illustrious career
Smiddy ended his 45-year career after the 1992-93 season and was the winningest coach (1,217-206) at any level of basketball – high school, college or pro – at the time.
Maston, arguably the Owls’ best shooter in recent weeks, was brilliant against the Mustangs (18-12), who used a 62-59 victory on Caio Hysinger’s half-court miracle shot to oust top-seeded Ooltewah in the District 5-AAA semifinals and eventually claim the title with a win over Bradley Central.
He was 4-for-4 for eight points in the first half when the Owls built a 33-26 lead.
Maston’s fifth field goal, a 3-pointer, produced a 38-28 lead in the third quarter. He nailed another 3 two minutes later and the Owls’ cushion was 43-31. His third 3 of the period from the left corner gave the Owls a 53-44 advantage and pushed his scoring total of 17 points at the time.
“He’s a shooter, no doubt about it,” Owls coach Jesse Nayadley. “And we’re learning to get the ball to him. Walker Valley made it harder for him to get it at the end of the game, and I would too.”
The Mustangs launched a mini-streak with five straight points to trim Ooltewah’s lead to 53-45, but Jackson drove the lane for a bucket, Andrew Ware dropped in a pair of layups, Ben Snider drove the lane for a layup and Maston, from dead in the left-corner, drained another 3 and the lead was extended to 64-49 with 3:34 left.
“We were bend-but-don’t break the whole game,” Nayadley said. “We’d get up 10 or 12 and they’d come back with five or six points and keep the game close. I kept telling the guys at some point we’ve got to get a couple of tough (scores) and spread it from 10 to 15 and it’s over. We finally did that in the fourth quarter. I think we finally gassed them.”
Two Walker Valley starters, Austin Harwood and Lukas Korn, played sick. In fact, Harwood vomited on the floor early in the first quarter and the game was delayed for almost 15 minutes, but returned to action before the period ended.
“They were sick but that’s no excuse,” Walker Valley coach Bob Williams said. “Ooltewah just played a great game. They came ready to play and just shot it so well.”
Harwood scored six points and Korn paced the Mustangs with 19 points. Hysinger scored 11 points.
Jackson’s drive to the hole was the Owls’ only field goal in the last 3 minutes, 33 seconds, but Jackson hit a free throw and Maston made two in the final 1:40. Walker Valley failed to score in the final 2:09.
Jackson finished with 16 points and Robinson had 10.
“I thought Antonio played one of his better games of the season tonight,” said Nayadley, now 10-3 against the Mustangs and 19-8 in the postseason in five seasons. “He was a leader on the floor, getting people where they needed to be, pepping them up in the huddle and did exactly what I expected him to do. And he wound up as our second-leading scorer.”
The 5-9 Jackson, a cat-quick guard who can slice and dice a defensive unit with blurring drives and acrobatic shots in the lane, not to mention knock down the 3, agreed with his coach.
“I think I had a pretty good game,” he said. “As a point guard, you don’t have to score all the points, but you have to get the other players involved, and that’s what I did tonight. “I helped Daaron get going and he knocked down some shots, I got Jacqueze involved with some fast breaks, got Andrew (Ware) some layups and I got mine when I went to the hole.”
Bradley Central used a 12-0 run – it was triggered by 3-pointers from Cox and Copeland – to take a 26-16 lead, but the Blue Raiders (19-12) cut the deficit to 31-29, but the Bears’ Dee Crisp hit a mid-range jumper at the buzzer to extend the lead to 33-29 at halftime.
Daniel Clark made his presence felt in the second half, hitting three 3-pointers and a free throw that helped the Bears to a 54-47 lead with 3:19 left in the game.
Clark’s second 3, this one from the left wing, gave the Bears a 40-33 cushion.
Clark, a 6-1 sophomore, finished with four 3s.
“Coach (Kent Smith) tells me to go out there and play the game – just do what I do,” Clark said.
Copeland, whose sister Brooke is the Bearettes’ leading scorer, felt Clark’s impact on the game deserved more credit.
“Daniel is a playmaker,” Copeland said. “We know what he can do.”
Everyone is aware that Copeland pulls the trigger on Bradley’s offense.
After Cleveland’s Jahmal Johnson tied the game at 42-42 on a dunk with 2:31 left in the third quarter, Copeland hit a 3-pointer 38 seconds later to ignite a 12-5 run that produced the 54-47 lead.
Johnson’s field goal with 2:37 on the clock cut Bradley’s lead to 55-52, but the Bears outscored 8-3 down the stretch for the win.
Now comes the rematch with Ooltewah.
“Ooltewah has a great club,” said Copeland, who also hit four 3s. “We’re looking forward to the opportunity to play them again.”
Ooltewah swept the regular-season series, winning 57-51 at home and then 44-30 at Bradley. The second loss was the lowest-scoring effort by the Bears in Smith’s 17-year tenure.
“The second time they beat us we couldn’t have beat a middle school team,” Smith said. “We had a lot of things going on. Right now we’re playing with house money and we’ve got nothing to lose.”
Bradley has won three of four with the only loss a 51-41 decision to Walker Valley in the district tournament title game.
Logan Cox scored 11 points for the Bears.
Cleveland, finishing the season at 19-12, was led by Kendrick Thompson’s 17 points. Johnson had 14 and C.J. Bryant 13.
“You feel bad when you lose and it’s your last game,” Blue Raiders coach Jason McCowan said. “Our kids really played their guts out, but Bradley really shot the ball well and we put a lot of (defensive) pressure on them. We expected Bryce to score his points, but we didn’t expect Clark to do what he did.”
Ooltewah 17 16 20 16 – 69
Walker Valley 12 14 19 12 – 57
Ooltewah (69) – Antonio Jackson 16, Jacqueze Robinson 13, Ware 8, Snider 7, Daaron Maston 22, King 3, Presley.
Walker Valley (57) – Anthony, Godfrey 9, Caio Hysinger 11, Melton 2, Lukas Korn 19, Morrow, Swafford 2, Brownfield 8, Harwood 6.
3-Point Goals: Ooltewah 8 (Maston 4, Jackson, Robinson, Snider, King); Walker Valley 4 (Hysinger 3, Godfrey).
Bradley Central 14 19 14 16 – 63
Cleveland 16 13 15 11 – 55
Bradley Central (63) – Bryce Copeland 22, Whitmire 8, Cain 2, Terrell, Logan Cox 11, Crisp 2, Daniel Clark 13, Bentley 5.
Cleveland (55– C.J. Bryant 13, Kendrick Thompson 17, Scott 2, Brown, Little 6, Jahmal Johnson 14, Jones 3, Ware, Bunion.
3-Point Goals: Bradley Central 12 (Copeland 4, Clark 4, Cox 3, Bentley); Cleveland 6 (Thompson 4, Bryant, Jones).
White County (21-11) vs. Bradley Central (27-2), 7 p.m.
Ooltewah (19-9) vs. Bradley Central (19-12), 7 p.m.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)