SWITZ CITY -- In the first round of sectional play on Tuesday night, the Clay City Eels knew they would have to stop North Central's duo of Rebekah Forsythe and Megan Haag from dominating the game.
The pair combined for just 18 points, over 20 points fewer than they average as a a pair and together, shot just five-of-21 from the field. But the Lady Birds didn't reach as high as No. 3 in the state at the Class A level by being just a two girl team. "Our game plan was to contain Forsythe and Haag and make other people beat us," said Clay City coach Chris Ross. Unfortunately for the Eels, that is exactly what happened.
North Central got 33 points from their bench, including 10 from sophomore Ashleigh Rogers and 11 from Kristi Gentry on the way to a 58-25 victory that sends them into the semifinals on Friday night versus White River Valley who defeated Shakamak 33-22 in Tuesday's opener.
The Eels didn't do themselves any favors in the early going as they turned the ball over 15 times in the first half and fell down 23-0 before they finally scored their first points of the game at the 3:54 mark of the second quarter. "Our first half turnovers certainly didn't make things any easier for us," said Ross afterwards. "But (Whitney) Golish is a good shooter and Higginbottom does a great job of penetrating. They're well coached and they did an excellent job of stepping up tonight."
The Eels also did a good job of rebounding from a poor first half that saw them trail 31-13 after shooting just three-of-14 from the field. But, the Eels also held North Central to 12-of-33 shooting as well. Proof that their defense was solid if not always successful.
Rebounding was an issue all night for Clay City as North Central's aggressive rebounders led them to a 40-29 advantage for the game, many leading to rebound baskets. "I don't know whether it was nerves or inexperience or what, but in the first half we were sluggish and didn't execute or compete. We allowed too many second, third and fourth chance points," commented Ross.
They Eels came out with a quick third quarter run begun by Jenna Koehler's jumper and a Whitney McWilliams floater. Elizabeth Effner hit a baseline drive after that to get Clay City within 32-14, but North Central had too many horses for the Eels. Even when second-leading scorer Haag, got her fourth foul with 3:56 left in the third quarter, her teammates stepped up to take up the slack.
The Ladybirds ran off five straight points, all from bench contributors as they boosted the lead back to 41-16 before a Koehler jumper. North Central was never seriously threatened after the Eels' early period run.
One bright spot for Clay City was the contributions of their sophomores who had eight of the team's 25 points along with freshman McWilliams' five. "I'm really pleased with our youth," said Ross. "We only have two seniors in Koehler and Sarah Boone and they will be sorely missed and not only on the basketball court. They are great kids. But we have to be excited about everyone who returns and the experience they got this year."
The Eels were led by Bryleigh Schopmeyer's six points and five boards and Effner's six points.
Clay City finishes the season at 3-18 overall, North Central advances to face host White River Valley on Friday night at 6 p.m.