Experience was a factor down the stretch of the District 5-AAA tournament boys' championship game Tuesday, and Walker Valley had a lot more of it at the end.
The Mustangs used a 9-1 run to create some distance between them and Cleveland, and they were able to hold on to defeat the Blue Raiders 68-63 at East Hamilton for their second consecutive district championship.
Both teams will host Region 3 quarterfinals Saturday at 7 p.m. -- Cleveland against White County and the Mustangs playing Cumberland County.
Bradley Central defeated Ooltewah 67-54 in the consolation game, and those two teams will travel Saturday evening to either Stone Memorial or Cookeville.
The Mustangs (21-9) benefited Tuesday from balanced scoring, led by Austin Harwood with 17 points, Brandon Crews with 15, Lukas Korn with 14 and Logan Melton with 11.
"Our execution at the end of the game was the difference," Korn said. "It was a tie game, neck and neck, but we hit some big shots and some big free throws, and held on to win."
Walker Valley opened a 44-35 lead in the third quarter on a layup by Logan Melton with 2:54 to go, but the Blue Raiders (17-8) rallied with a 9-0 run to end the quarter, led by seven points by Kendrick Thompson. The teams were tied again at 48, but Harwood started to attack the basket and scored four consecutive points in the backbreaking run.
"We played hard the whole way and stuck to the game plan, and it worked out for us," Harwood said. "We stayed patient when we really needed it."
Thompson led the Blue Raiders with 29 points.
"We weren't able to get stops and weren't able to take advantage of some really good looks," Cleveland coach Jason McCowan said. "We were able to get into the paint. I'm not sure if we were worried about their length, but we had some missed opportunities and weren't able to get important stops that could have changed the game."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.