CLAY CITY -- For Clay City's seniors, White River Valley had become almost like the New York Yankees to their own Boston Red Sox. Sometimes agonizingly close to victory, but never quite able to get over the hump and pick up a win over the Wolverines.
Until Monday night.
The Eels had as much as a 10 point lead in the first half before withstanding a furious Wolverine charge to pick up a 53-39 victory and a 1-0 mark in the Southwestern Indiana Conference.
"This game was really important to the older girls," said Clay City coach Chris Ross. "Especially Cameron (Gerber) and Bryleigh Schopmeyer. You could tell tonight that they were ready to play both mentally and physically."
The senior starters had plenty of reason to badly want a victory in perhaps the last meeting of their career versus White River Valley.
The Eels lost two games against the Wolverines last year, including a sectional opening loss, were hammered 70-25 two years ago in the only meeting, lost twice again three years ago, including a two point heartbreaker in the sectional. All together, this year's class of seniors had dropped five straight matchups with White River Valley, but on Monday, the Eels turned the tables.
Stifling first period defense led to a 19 point outburst for Clay City who managed to take a 26-21 lead into halftime despite turning the ball over 12 times. Gerber was a big key in the surge, posting six points on perfect shooting and sophomore Sarah Kennedy pulled down five rebounds in the second quarter alone.
"I think Sarah (Kennedy) played her best game of the year tonight," commented Ross. "Cameron (Gerber) also had one of her best games in awhile, she was aggressive and played hard tonight."
In the third period, the Wolverines showed exactly why they were 3-1 coming into the contest.
WRV forced seven turnovers in the third quarter, several however, were unforced, but the Eels gave up their halftime advantage and the Wolverines took a 32-31 lead with 2:19 left in the period on two Paige Miller free throws.
But the Eels wouldn't crumble, after a Kristen Tyler basket and two free throws from Sarah Truax, Whitney McWilliams took over.
She drove to the basket for a 35-34 advantage and on the defensive end she picked up a steal and another layin for a 37-34 lead with 1:08 left in the quarter. On the ensuing WRV possession, McWilliams pulled down a rebound and found an open Tyler underneath the hoop for a 39-34, one of eight assists for McWilliams.
"She really took over," commented Ross. "That's what you need your star to be able to do. She played great defense, controlled the ball and found the open person."
The Wolverines wouldn't go away however, closing to 39-38 on a 4-0 run heading into the final quarter, but Schopmeyer answered with a 3-pointer to put the Eels ahead to stay at 42-38.
WRV would score just one more point as Clay City's defense clamped down and the Eels made all the big plays down the stretch. Schopmeyer drove for a hoop and after a Tyra Schantz free throw, Chelsee Gerber found herself open in the lane for two of her eight points, followed by a WRV turnover. The Eels came right back for a basket from Kennedy on a feed from McWilliams and the Eels closed the game on an 11-1 run to finish.
"We've grown so much as a team," noted Ross. "Last year we wouldn't have been able to stop their (scoring) run, but we're more mature and we're making plays when we need them."
For coach Chris Ross, the victory was just as big as for his seniors.
"It's so gratifying as a coach to see all the hard work and dedication pay off for these girls."
The Eels, now 3-1 overall, will visit Riverton Parke on Thursday night at 6 p.m.
Clay City (53)
McWilliams 6-13 3-5 17, Schopmeyer 2-6 0-0 5, Ca.Gerber 3-3 5-5 11, Kennedy 3-7 0-0 6, Ch.Gerber 3-4 2-5 8, L.Rood 1-2 0-0 2, Tyler 2-4 0-1 4, Steiner 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 20-40 10-16 53.
White River Valley (39)
Truax 5-9 3-4 13, Lammert 4-11 2-4 10, Capehart 0-7 2-4 2, Miller 0-5 3-4 3, Schantz 2-7 3-6 7, Dyer 1-3 2-2 4, Borter 0-1 0-0 0, Held 0-3 0-0 0, Johnson 0-2 0-0 0. Totals: 12-48 15-24 39.
3-point fieldgoals -- Clay City 3-8 (McWilliams 2-6, Schopmeyer 1-2), WRV 0-5 (Truax 0-3, Lammert 0-1, Miller 0-2, Dyer 0-1). Total Rebounds -- Clay City 37 (Kennedy 9, Schopmeyer 6), WRV 29 (Lammert 6). Total Fouls -- Clay City 18, WRV 13. Turnovers -- Clay City 24, WRV 21.