CLEVELAND, Tenn. – Ooltewah senior Ben Snider led a three-pronged attack with 30 points, including 11 straight in the fourth quarter, and the Owls posted a hard-fought 90-83 victory over Walker Valley on Tuesday night in a key District 5-AAA high school basketball game.
With the Owls nursing a three-point lead with just under six minutes left to play, Snider took the offensive reins and score 11 consecutive Ooltewah points to stretch the margin to 88-83 with 12.7 seconds remaining.
Snider’s personal scoring burst effectively sealed the win.
“I don’t want to put the fate of my senior season in the hands of someone else,” Snider said. “My teammates came to me. They knew what I could do and the coaches had faith in me and I just went out there and played hard.”
With the win Ooltewah improved to 11-8 overall and 6-2 in district play and stayed within striking distance of league-leading Bradley Central, which improved to 12-7 and 8-0 in the district with a 55-38 win over McMinn County. Cleveland, 5-2, in the district, did not play Tuesday.
The Owls are in a hole Bradley because of Bradley’s 68-62 win in Cleveland on Dec. 13. Bradley comes to Ooltewah for a rematch on Jan. 28.
“We can’t lose any more games and finish first in the district,” Snider said, “and I want to be first. We’ve got five more district games left and we’re chasing (Bradley). Hopefully, we can win out and maybe somebody will slip up on them.”
Snider, who missed several games recently after suffering a broken middle finger on his right hand when a car trunk lid slammed down, is one of two seniors in Ooltewah’s starting lineup and the other one – Ron King – came up big as well with 16 points, nine coming in the second half. Junior Jarek Boyd finished with 17 points.
The three combined for 19 field goals, five 3s, and 10-of-19 shooting from the free-throw line.
“Ben’s finally healthy,” Owls coach Tank Montgomery said. “This was a team effort because his teammates played big too. But I told Ben there in the fourth quarter that if he catches the ball at the high post, he’s got to make a move. Either he was going to create for himself of create for somebody else.
“When (Walker Valley) didn’t help on him, he pretty much got to where he wanted to be and made some baskets. There were a couple of times in that run where he just went and got the offensive rebound and put it back in. That was a will to win and that was big.”
Walker Valley (11-9, 3-5) coach Bob Williams said the Mustangs didn’t play enough “help defense” and that enabled Snider to punish them in his game-changing 5-minute spurt.
“He’s a good player and it’s not just the one guy guarding him,” Williams said. “It’s not just the one guy guarding him. The other four have to help and we didn’t get much help at all. Ooltewah is a very athletic and quick. If you stand around and watch, they’re going to get the ball and score. I thought we stood around there at the end.”
Nobody was standing around for three-plus quarters.
The Mustangs, who lost to the Owls 65-57 at Ooltewah on Jan. 4, got an early lead thanks to Lukas Korn’s quick nine-point start in the first quarter. The Mustangs scored six points to close the second period and went into the locker room with a 45-39 halftime advantage.
When Brandon Crews, who led Walker Valley with 20 points, warmed up with two 3s and Logan Melton added one of many layups, the Mustangs had their biggest lead of the game at 53-44 with 6:07 left in the third period.
“We let Ooltewah dictate the pace of the game and it was successful early because we were scoring and I didn’t mind it so much,” Williams said. “But, goodness, they finished strong in the last few minutes.”
Specifically, Snider, Boyd and King powered the Owls down the stretch by combining for 19 of the Owls’ 21 fourth-quarter points – Jaymcal Johnson made two free throws in the period.
Montgomery felt it probably was the Owls’ best win of the season.
“Because the boys fought at the end,” he said. “When things could have gone this way or that way, they hung in there. A couple of calls went against them and normally that would have rattled them, but I’m proud that they kept fighting. That’s a good team over there.”
The Owls trailed for most of three quarters against the Mustangs (11-9, 3-5), but Boyd started the final period with five straight points to give them a 74-71 lead – they last lead was 11-9 in the first quarter.
Walker Valley’s Bryce Nunnelly hit two free throws to whittle the Owls’ lead to 74-73.
King drilled a 3 from the left wing to push the lead to 77-73.
Nunnelly made one free throw.
Then Snider, whose career high of 37 points came earlier this season in a Thanksgiving tournament in Knoxville, took over the Owls’ offense.
Snider dropped in a tough bank shot, starting his personal 11-point spree, and pushing the Owls’ lead to 79-74 with 5:03 remaining.
After Korn – he finished with 18 points – hit a layup, Snider answered with a left-handed layup on a fastbreak.
Walker Valley’s Austin Harwood, who had 12 points, made a backdoor move and hit a layup with 1:55 left, again pulling the Mustangs to within three points at 83-80.
Snider powered to the bucket for a layup and the Owls were up 85-80 at the 1:39 mark.
Melton kept the pressure on Ooltewah with a clutch right-wing 3-pointer with 62 seconds left.
Again, the 6-foot-1-inch Snider responded, this time with a high-arcing jumper over the 6-6 Korn with 41.2 seconds on the clock and the Owls led 87-80.
After a Mustang turnover and deep 3-point air ball by Crews – he made three 3s in the third quarter that kept Walker Valley in the lead – Snider was fouled and sank the second of two free throws, stretching the Owls’ lead to 88-83 with just 12.7 seconds to go.
Harwood missed a 3 from the left wing and Ooltewah’s Jaymcal Johnson calmly sank two free throws – he was sent to the line on Korn’s fifth foul – to provide the final 90-83 margin with 4.7 seconds remaining.
The Owls have scored 172 points in their last two games, both wins, after losing three straight to Rhea County, Cleveland and East Ridge by a combined margin of 15 points.
Walker Valley riddled Ooltewah’s defense Tuesday with back-door or lob passes that resulted in an onslaught of layups, but the Owls’ adjustment created problems for the Mustangs in the final minutes.
“We realized that if we didn’t start locking down on our man we were going to lose this game,” Snider said.”
Said Montgomery: “We got a lot tougher in the fourth quarter. We went back to what we do best and that’s our man-to-man defense. The guys started communicating and switching better and that’s the one thing we haven’t been doing, especially in the fourth quarter when you’re tired.”
In the earlier girls game, Walker Valley had little trouble in posting a 55-42 win over the Lady Owls, who trailed 36-16 at halftime.
Jaclyn Griffith led the Lady Mustangs with 17 points and Victoria Jones had 12 points, coming on four 3s.
India Corley was the lone Lady Owl in double figures with 17.
Ooltewah 14 25 30 21 – 90
Walker Valley 20 25 26 12 – 83
Ooltewah (90) – Johnson 5, Jarek Boyd 16, Ron King 17, Snider 30, Fritz 9, Ross 2, Montgomery 8, Freeman.
Walker Valley (83) – Melton 8, Austin Harwood 12, Lukas Korn 18, Swafford 4, Brandon Crews 20, Russell, Herd 4, Jones 8, Morrow 2, Nunnelly 7.
3-Point Goals – Ooltewah 6 (Snider 3, King 1, Fritz); Walker Valley 5 (Crews 4, Melton).
Ooltewah 6 10 9 17 – 42
Walker Valley 23 13 11 8 – 55
Ooltewah (42) – Lemon, Cain, Taylor 6, Cooper 3, A. Jones, H. Hall, G. Hall 2, Baker 6, Thompson, Indian Corley 17, R. Jones 2, Henderson 6, K. Cox, C. Cox, Reed.
Walker Valley (55) – Victoria Jones 12, Percy 1, Patel, Cox, Macon 4, Spann 2, Jaclyn Griffith 17, Lay, White, C. Davis, Alomar 8, R. Davis 5, Mowery 6.
3-Point Goals – Ooltewah 5 (Corley 2, Taylor 2, Cooper); Walker Valley 7 (Jones 4, Alomar 2, Griffith).
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)