CLEVELAND, Tenn. - If the Walker Valley basketball Mustangs were professional wrestlers, their favorite move would either be the "Sleeper" or maybe the "Okie-Doke." They keep luring people to sleep in terms of opponents' expectations of them.
The Mustangs, who won the District 5-AAA tournament as the No. 4 seed for the second straight season, will be one of 27 area Tennessee boys' teams competing in region quarterfinal games Saturday night, each at the higher-seeded school. Saturday's winners will play at set regional sites, which for Region 3-AAA semifinalists will be Cookeville High School.
Walker Valley, which hosts Cumberland County on Saturday, was 9-6 entering the second semester last season and 15-11 entering the district tournament, having won only five league games. The Mustangs won the district championship with three wins by an average of six points - including a semifinal defeat of Ooltewah on a last-second half-court heave - before falling to the same Owls team in the region semifinals.
This year's Mustangs are 21-9 and on a 10-game win streak. They were 8-7 after a loss to Cleveland on Jan. 7. It's their first 20-win season since the 2008-09 team advanced to the state semifinals.
"At the beginning of the season, we were playing some experienced guys with some that were inexperienced," coach Bob Williams said. "I tell all of my teams that we're going to have some hard times -- and some good times -- but that we have to learn from the hard times.
"We've had some tough games, but we've learned from them. These guys being able to go through the wars last year is huge: A lot of these guys have played two years of varsity and they've been in a lot of close games, and that's helped with the experience and the learning process."
The Mustangs are 7-3 in games decided by five points or less this season.
"We just like a challenge," senior Austin Harwood said. "This year we just came together when we needed it, like last year. I think we're just more comfortable in the postseason, but we have to keep doing what we're doing. Coach just tells us to 'Do what you do,' and we just go out there and have fun."
The Mustangs are a very balanced team offensively, which was one of the key factors when the team advanced to the state tournament. They have length inside with Lukas Korn and Dustin Swafford, both in the 6-foot-5 or 6-6 range; strength and athletic ability in Harwood; a shooter in Brandon Crews; and good guard play from Logan Melton and Bryce Nunnelly. All have made key contributions during their latest run.
"And we're not done yet," Korn said. "I think that we come through when it counts, when we're underdogs.
"When it's crunch time, Walker Valley comes through."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.