CLAY CITY -- Facing an uphill battle versus an experienced and sizable South Vermillion squad in their season opener, the Clay City Eels proved to be a very game opponent through three quarters but eventually lost the battle, 52-39, to the Wildcats.
With one likely starter out due to a knee injury and another senior guard out with a broken hand, the Eels went toe-to-toe with the Wildcats who had three starters returning from last year's group. The Eels led by two points after a strong first half, but South Vermillion's frontline of 6'6 210 pound Zach Williamson and 6'3 197 pound Tyler Walker wore down the Eels in the fourth period. The pair combined for seven points and six rebounds while fouling out Clay City's Brock Dyer up front.
"We played really hard tonight," said Eels' coach Grant McVay. "I certainly can't be disappointed in our level of effort, but we just ran out of gas."
In the first half the Eels got seven points apiece from Dyer and Josey Vansickle and were able to hold Williamson to just two first quarter points. Forward Garrett Thatcher also helped pick up two quick fouls on Williamson that kept him from being effective.
Meanwhile, the Eels outscored South Vermillion 14-8 in the second period and took a 26-24 advantage into the locker room.
But in the third quarter the Eels' offense went stale, hitting just two-of-13 shots in the period and were unable to take advantage of foul trouble by the Wildcats' high-scoring 6'5 guard/forward Todd Byram.
Already with 13 points, Byram picked up his third foul with 3:41 remaining in the third period and went to the bench. But the Eels couldn't take advantage and were actually outscored 3-2 to the rest of the period and began a nearly five minute scoreless streak into the final period.
"Give them credit," said McVay. "South Vermillion is a good team with size and experience and athleticism. They responded as we thought they would."
The Wildcats responded by pounding the ball inside to their big men with Byram, Williamson and Walker getting looks each time down the floor.
Ryan Lynn hit a 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter to push the lead to 35-30 and Walker added a hoop followed by a free throw by Williamson and suddenly the Wildcats were ahead 38-30 near the midpoint of the final quarter.
After a pair of Thatcher free throws for the Eels, Williamson began to assert himself in the paint. He would pull down four rebounds over the final minutes and score five points as Clay City struggled with ball handling (four turnovers) and the Wildcats milked the clock. "We knew that, to beat (South Vermillion) we would have to stop Williamson," commented McVay. "With his size, strength and experience, if they were able to get the ball to him, we'd be in trouble."
In fact, South Vermillion did get the ball to him over the final four minutes and the Eels did find themselves in trouble as the Wildcats finished the game on a 12-5 run.
"We had some good looks tonight, but they didn't go down," noted McVay. "But so long as our kids bring the effort they brought tonight, we'll be able to to meet our goals we set this year."
For the Eels, Thatcher had a strong game in his first major varsity experience, tallying a team-high 14 points and six rebounds. Josey Vansickle added nine points for Clay City who drops to 0-1 overall.
Next up for the Eels is a Friday, Dec. 3 matchup at Union (Dugger) at 6:30 p.m.
In the junior varsity contest, the Eels were able to outscore the Wildcats 27-16 in the final half to pickup a 39-29 victory.
Logan Bettenbrock scored 11 points with Cole Schroer adding eight and Joel Farmer chipping in with seven.
Prior to the game, Clay City High School was presented with the 2003-04 Sportsmanship Award by Indiana High School Athletic Association Commissioner Blake Ress.
The award was presented to just 74 of the 398 eligible high schools across the state of Indiana.
"One of the goals of the IHSAA and this program is to develop not just 'All-Americans' but good Americans," said Blake Ress, Commissioner of the IHSAA. "By recognizing these schools, we are emphasizing the importance of a positive attitude, fair play and the development of sportsmanship, citizenship and character -- some of the most valuable outcomes of high school athletics."
Clay City (39)
Roeschlein 0-5 0-0 0, Knox 2-7 2-2 6, Vansickle 4-13 0-3 9, Dyer 2-9 2-2 7, Thatcher 5-10 4-6 14, Griffith 0-1 0-0 0, C.Schroer 1-3 0-0 3. Totals: 14-48 8-13 39.
Byram 6-13 3-4 17, Dunham 0-1 1-2 1, Williamson 3-5 3-5 9, Russell 4-9 2-4 11, Lynn 1-1 0-0 3, Walker 2-5 3-4 9, Milam 1-2 0-0 2, Walsh 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 18-36 12-19 52.
3-point fieldgoals -- Clay City 3-12 (Dyer 1-4, Vansickle 1-4, C.Schroer 1-3, Knox 0-1), S.Verm. 4-9 (Byram 2-5, Russell 1-3, Lynn 1-1). Total Rebounds -- Clay City 27 (Thatcher 6, Dyer 6), S.Verm. 35 (Williamson 9, Russell 6). Total Fouls -- Clay City 16, S.Verm. 15. Fouled out -- Clay City (Knox, Dyer), S.Verm. (Walker). Turnovers -- Clay City 13, S.Verm 15.