Brock Roberts (left) defends versus South Putnam earlier this season. Roberts will add important bench support for the Eels tonight.
The Clay City Eels open sectional play this evening with a 6 p.m. contest versus the Shakamak Lakers whom they defeated during the regular season 55-53 in Jasonville.
The Class A No. 4 ranked Eels have the luxury of hosting their own sectional but face the tough task of winning three consecutive sectional games to take the title.
Tuesday's matchup with the Lakers will pit a pair of teams who have fought and scrapped their way through the season to attain solid, if not exemplary records.
The Eels stand at 17-4 this season with their only losses coming to Class A No. 7 Bloomfield (14-8), No. 9 White River Valley (11-10) and whom the Eels have also beaten, Class 2A No. 5 Eastern (Greene) (18-3) and Class 4A No. 16 ranked Northview. None of the defeats were by more than seven points.
Clay City is currently in the midst of a six-game winning streak that finished the regular season and began with a win against, who else? The Lakers.
Meanwhile Shakamak has put together a modest two-game streak after back-to-back defeats to the Eels and Eastern (Greene), but the Lakers have won six of their last eight games overall.
In the team's last game on Feb. 7, the Lakers trailed in the first quarter 12-0 before they found their stride and closed the gap to two in the waning seconds. Josh Netherlain had a shot to win the game in the closing seconds but the shot missed the mark.
The three "Josh's" do most of the offensive damage for the Lakers with Josh McDaniel shouldering the scoring lead at nearly 16 points a game. He shoots over 51 percent from the field to lead the team as well.
Senior center Josh Langford, whose matchup with Clay City's Matt Farmer should prove very important, averages 12.4 points a game and 4.4 rebounds.
Guard Josh Netherlain runs point for the Lakers and leads the squad with 4.7 assists per contest to go with a 9.5 ppg. scoring average. His well-rounded game versus Eminence on Tuesday was one of his best this season. Netherlain had 19 points, 10 boards, five steals and four assists in the win.
Brent Essex and Tyler Rehmel round out the starting five for Shakamak.
The Eels are paced by a group of seniors who are ready to taste sectional success.
The current group of seven seniors on the varsity roster have picked up just one win in their previous three sectional appearances and lost to the Lakers 47-42 last year in the first round of sectional play.
Seniors Elliott Booe and Matt Farmer pace the scoring for the Eels with Booe at 18 points per game and Farmer at 12 per game. Farmer also averages over seven rebounds per game with Booe getting four.
Junior Roger Harden is also a key scoring threat with 9.8 ppg. and 3.3 rebounds. Landon Wellman is coming off of an 11 point game versus Rockville and averages 5.25 ppg.
With third-leading scorer Jared Defore not likely to play because of a previous knee injury, Wellman and Harden are that much more important to the sectional hopes of the Eels.
Camrand Tucker and Greg Long also add strength and depth to an Eels squad that has high hopes this season.
Sectional play kicks off tonight at 6 p.m. when the Eels face the Lakers followed by a 7:30 p.m. (approx.) game between Bloomfield and Union.