CLEVELAND, Tenn. – Judging solely by Walker Valley coach Will Campbell’s frustration after Friday night’s game against Ooltewah, it might have appeared as if his Mustangs had lost the game.
They didn’t lose, but the mood was understandable. Leading by 18 points with three minutes to go in the game, his team fought off a furious rally by the visiting Owls and held on for a 60-51 District 5-AAA victory.
“The entire game really had no rhythm to it,” said Campbell.
“It’s a district win, and we’re always glad to get those. But I want to ask the team how they feel about that district win. Because knowing my guys, they’re not satisfied with that performance. I’ve got a good group that wants to play well, and we have a lot of stuff we have to clean up.”
The Mustangs (6-1, 1-0) built that lead primarily on the shooting of Sam Belau and Blake Campbell. Belau led all scorers with 19 points and shot 4-of-7 from behind the arc, while Campbell scored 18 as the duo accounted for over 60 percent of the Mustangs’ offense.
Walker Valley also dominated on the glass, particularly in the first half when their size advantage created a number of second-chance baskets and defensively kept Ooltewah (3-4, 0-2) from getting any easy shots from inside 15 feet.
After the Owls made their first three treys of the game, the Mustangs’ defense stymied Ooltewah for the remainder of the first half. After the 5:40 mark in the first quarter, the visitors made just two field goals and scored eight points as Walker Valley built a 28-17 lead by halftime.
That lead got bigger in the third quarter behind the hot shooting of Belau, who had eight points in the period. The noise from the packed student section grew as the game seemed firmly under control with a Mustang lead of 14 by the end of the third period.
But the Owls wouldn’t go away. Led by Tarel McClurkin, who had 13 of his team-high 18 points in the second half, Ooltewah scored 11 straight over a two-minute stretch to cut an 18-point deficit down to just seven with a minute remaining.
But it was too little too late. Campbell and teammate Jake Smith combined to go 5-of-6 from the free-throw line over the final minute to ice the game for Walker Valley.
While it was a district loss, Ooltewah coach Jay Williams was still proud of his team for fighting back down the stretch, particularly since they played the game short-handed. The Owls were missing three players due to sickness or injury.
“I think it just took a little while for our guys to settle in, and once they did, they realized that we could play with (Walker Valley),” said Williams. “The second quarter really hurt us, but we battled back. We saw a couple of things that we thought we could take advantage of, and our guys did in the second half. Our kids played hard; it was a good high school game, and we came up on the short end of it.”
“The key is what we do next. Are we going to keep getting better every day, or are we going to take one step forward and two steps back?”
Next week, Walker Valley travels to Soddy Daisy before hosting White County and McMinn County. Ooltewah plays at Cleveland and then travels across the state line to take on Southeast Whitfield (Ga.).
OOLTEWAH 12 5 16 18 -- 51
WALKER VALLEY 17 11 19 13 -- 60
OOLTEWAH (51) – Tarel McClurkin 18, Deleon Petty 16, Hyndman 5, Williams 4, Johnson 4, Sims 3, Mackaluso 1, Haymon, McHone.
WALKER VALLEY (60) – Sam Belau 19, Blake Campbell 18, Smith 9, Duprey 7, Davis 6, Moore 1, Berger, Harbison.
3-POINT GOALS: Ooltewah 4 (McClurkin 2, Petty, Hyndman); Walker Valley 5 (Belau 4, Campbell).
(e-mail Kevin Llewallyn at firstname.lastname@example.org)