The second game of the teams’ season series was practically a carbon copy of the first matchup from early December, when Wheeler won by a nearly identical score of 72-71.
Tuesday’s rematch was an up-and-down affair, in which Wheeler (10-7, 8-0) and Walton (10-10, 2-5) continuously traded the lead. The Wildcats took a seven-point lead in the final 2 minutes, an advantage the Raiders nearly erased.
“We expected them to give their best, and we tried to give them our best,” Wheeler coach Doug Lipscomb said. “It’s been a long, hard-fought rivalry.”
For Walton coach Joe Goydish, it was yet another example of the intense rivalry between the two schools that are only a little less that 5 miles apart.
“It’s just a great atmosphere with two good teams fighting it out,” Goydish said. “These kids know each other. The ball bounces one way or the other. The lead never got higher than (seven). It was a good game. (Wheeler has) really good players.”
Kejuan Johnson scored 22 points and Chuck Mitchell added 20 to lead Wheeler, which also got 11 points from Elijah Staley.
Rico Overall and Sean Morgan each scored 24 points for Walton, with 20 of Morgan’s points coming in the second half. Josh Lyle had 16 points.
Wheeler jumped out to an 8-2 lead, with Mitchell scoring five of those points and Johnson the other three on a 3-pointer, but Walton quickly narrowed the gap and left the Wildcats with a narrow 14-12 advantage at the end of the first quarter.
Walton then took its first lead of the game when Lyle’s transition layup put the Raiders in front 18-17 with 5:45 remaining in the first half. Staley hit a jumper to put Wheeler back ahead 19-18, but the Raiders looked to start a run when layups by John Gibson and Overall gave them a 22-19 lead with 4:30 left.
Wheeler, however, struck right back when David Lipscomb’s 3-pointer with 4:03 left tied the game at 22-all. The lead then went back and forth the rest of the second quarter before the first half ended in a 28-all tie.
Wheeler began to build up some momentum at the beginning of the second half with a 7-2 run — fueled by 3-pointers from David Lipscomb and Johnson — giving the Wildcats a 37-30 lead with 5:50 remaining in the third quarter.
Walton fought back with an 8-0 run of its own. Morgan, who was held to only four points in the first half, hit a jumper. Lyles then scored before Morgan and Overall scored on back-to-back transition layups to give the Raiders a 38-37 lead with 4:30 left.
The teams traded the lead a few more times before Wheeler established a slight advantage in the final 2 minutes of the third quarter and led 51-47 at the end of the period.
Wheeler led 58-53 with 5:26 remaining in the game, but Morgan made one of two free throws with 4:55 left and then was fouled on a layup and hit another free throw to cut the Wildcats’ lead to 58-57. Overall then sank a couple of free throws to put Walton ahead 59-58 with 3:55 left.
That, however, would turn out to be the final lead for Walton as Wheeler took advantage of three turnovers to go on an 8-0 to go back in front 66-59 — matching its biggest lead of the game — with 1:57 left.
But Walton didn’t go out quietly as Morgan made one of two free throws, and Lyles nailed a 3-pointer, to cut Wheeler’s lead to 66-63 with 1:01 left. The Raiders stayed within striking distance the rest of the way, but Wheeler went 5-for-5 from the free-throw line in the last 30 seconds to hold on for the win.
“(Walton) kept fighting,” Doug Lipscomb said. “We made some big plays as well, and we hit some free throws that were crucial. I think that was a very exciting game for the fans. We were fortunate to come out on top. I’m very proud of the effort of our kids.”
Wheeler 80, Walton 71: After trailing by one going into the fourth quarter, the Lady Wildcats turned up their full-court press and outscored the Lady Raiders by 10 to win the Region 5AAAAA game.
Alaysia Mitchell had 24 points to lead Wheeler (7-10, 3-4) and completed a double-double with 19 rebounds. Kiana Griffin also had a double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
Cassidy Allen contributed with 13 points and Aysia Grimsley produced 12 points.
Kathy Johnson scored 20 points to lead Walton (2-14, 1-6). Katie Dozier finished with 16.