CLAY CITY -- The Clay City Eels appear to be hitting their stride and exactly the right time as sectional action approaches next week.
For the second game in a row, the Eels got a superlative effort in the front court and balanced overall play in earning a victory.
On Friday night, the Eels capped their regular season with a 68-58 victory over visiting Rockville as sophomore Garrett Thatcher scored 29 points and pulled down seven rebounds in the win.
Clay City played perhaps their best basketball of the season while dominating play in a second quarter that saw the Eels turn a three point first quarter lead into an 18 point lead by the halftime break.
"Without question, our energy and focus was better in the first half," commented coach Grant McVay. "Rockville presents some unique challenges with their guards and how they spread people out and shoot the 3-(pointer). To hold them to 19 in the first half is a result of our focus and energy on defense."
That defense forced four Rox turnovers in the pivotal second quarter and the Eels got a 10 point period from Thatcher, who dominated in the post over the smaller Rox. The Eels got their transition game rolling and got hot from the field to the tune of a 10-of-14 (71 percent) shooting performance from the field in the period.
"We did a great job of making the extra pass (in the second quarter)," noted McVay.
Junior Josey Vansickle scored five of his 16 points before the half and senior TL Roeschlein pounded the glass for nine rebounds before halftime against a Rockville squad that played just two players over six-foot tall.
The Rox crept slowly back into the game as Brett Knoblett scored a pair of 3-pointers in an eight point period and the Rox ended the quarter on a 10-5 run ending the quarter with a Tyler Harper 3-pointer.
In the fourth quarter the Eels opened the scoring as senior Brock Dyer scored and Roeschlein drove to the basket for a 55-38 Clay City advantage. But from there, the Rox began to peck away at the Clay City advantage.
Daniel Vauters scored, preceding a jumper from Steven Hartman to get the Rox within 55-42. But the 6'3 Thatcher wasn't to be denied on Friday, he responded with one of his five, three-point plays on the night before another Harper 3-pointer countered for the Rox. Trailing 60-48 after a Roeschlein basket, part of his 12 point, 11 rebound night, Rockville got a 3-pointer from Hartman and a basket from Zach Clapp and a hoop on a Luke Hendrix drive. Suddenly Rockville was within 60-52 with 2:07 remaining.
"To (Rockville's) credit, they hit some shots in the second half," admitted McVay. "They started using some dribble penetration and we didn't do as good a job in the second half on defense."
The Eels, however, would hold off any last charge from the Rox, as Vansickle knocked down six straight free throws to cap the Clay City victory on Senior Night.
After the game, McVay discussed his seniors and the adversity they have faced in a long season.
"These seniors (Dyer, Roeschlein, Klay Knox and Kyle Romas) have gone through a lot of adversity," said McVay. "With the injuries and losing Kyle (Romas missed all but two games due to a broken hand and a torn ACL at midseason) along with Stephen Johnson. The group that has worked together all summer just wasn't there. But it was great to see Kyle out there tonight as a captain. He's still very much a part of what we do and who we are even if he can't be on the court."
The Eels finish the regular season at 9-12 overall and will take on North Central on Tuesday night in the first round of the White River Valley Sectional at 6 p.m.
Hartman 7-13 2-2 18, Hendrix 2-9 2-2 6, Knoblett 4-11 0-0 10, Clapp 1-2 0-0 2, Vauters 1-2 0-0 2, Harper 4-8 0-0 11, Bacon 3-6 0-0 7, Bonomo 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 23-52 4-4 58.
Clay City (68)
Roeschlein 5-6 2-6 12, Knox 1-2 0-0 2, Vansickle 3-11 9-10 16, Dyer 3-5 0-1 7, Thatcher 12-16 5-5 29, Griffith 1-2 0-1 2, Bettenbrock 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 25-42 16-23 68.
3-point fieldgoals -- Rockville 8-23 (Harper 3-5, Knoblett 2-7, Hartman 2-5, Bacon 1-3, Hendrix 0-3), Clay City 2-7 (Dyer 1-3, Vansickle 1-3, Knox 0-1). Total Rebounds -- Rockville 20 (Vauter 7), Clay City 29 (Roeschlein 11, Thatcher 7). Total Fouls -- Rockville 21, Clay City 11. Fouled out -- Rockville (Hendrix). Turnovers -- Rockville 11, Clay City 17.