SWITZ CITY -- The 2004-05 season has been one of strife for Clay City's boys' basketball team.
The Eels broke in a wealth of new players after graduating a handful of experienced seniors, but injuries to potential starters Stephen Johnson and then Kyle Romas sent Clay City scrambling to recover. However, the Eels have battled all season long and Tuesday's White River Valley Sectional opener was no different.
Clay City played with heart and overwhelming effort but weren't able to hit the big shots at the end and North Central gave the Eels no extra opportunities by hitting 19-of-24 free throws in the fourth period of a 64-55 victory.
Afterwards, Clay City coach Grant McVay admitted that the pace of the game was not what the Eels needed to be successful. "Our kids played a pretty gutsy game," noted McVay. "But at the same time, we gave up over 60 points. If we give up over 50, it's hard for us to win."
Both squads came out firing in the first quarter.
The Eels knocked down eight-of-11 shots from the field while North Central got seven-of-11 of their shots. The Thunderbirds' Tony Samm nailed a pair of 3-pointers and Clay City struggled all night to get a handle on North Central sophomore Matt Woodard who scored 12 of his 20 points in the first half.
The Thunderbirds took a 20-17 advantage after one period as Samm got a halfcourt steal and beat the buzzer with a long 3-pointer.
The second period was more to Clay City's liking as the pace slowed and the Eels got the ball to the paint for senior center Brock Dyer, who scored six points in the quarter, and Garrett Thatcher tallied a pair. Meanwhile, the Eels held North Central to three-of-11 shooting in the period as the Thunderbirds held a tight 28-27 lead at the midway point.
"The second and third quarters were played closer to the way we would like," commented McVay. "North Central has as much ability and talent as anyone in this sectional. When they put it all together they have a lot of firepower."
The Thunderbirds, fell behind 33-28 early in the third period as Clay City got a hoop from Klay Knox and Dyer rebounded a missed shot for another basket. Josey Vansickle then followed with a spinning drive to the baseline to complete a 6-0 Eels' run that gave them a 33-28 advantage.
From there however, North Central sophomore Andrew Gilman knocked down a 3-pointer and the teams began to wage a tight battle the remainder of the quarter and early into the fourth period.
Six lead changes and a three ties later, Jordan Spencer would sway the game in the Thunderbirds favor with a three-point play that put North Central ahead 48-45. Woodard would extend the advantage to 50-45 before Dustin Griffith hit a pair of free throws to narrow the gap to three as Woodard came out with his fourth foul at the 4:34 mark.
But the Eels were unable to make up any ground with North Central's leading scorer on the bench. A pair of Dyer free throws, part of his 13 point night, got the Eels within 54-51 with 2:24 left. The Eels would create a steal and Griffith layin on the inbound pass and Clay City was back within 54-53. Gilman hit two free throws as Woodard returned and the Eels weren't able to get any closer.
The Eels missed several late jumpers from the perimeter and North Central knocked down six-of-eight free throws in the final minute of the game for the victory.
"I think if we play fundamentally the way we should, we can beat anybody," commented McVay. "But if we don't, we can get beat by anyone. Come tournament time, you have to do those things consistently."
With the loss, Clay City finishes the season at 9-13 while North Central (6-16) advances to face Shakamak Friday at 6 p.m.
Clay City (55)
Roeschlein 1-5 1-6 3, Vansickle 8-17 1-2 17, Knox 1-1 0-0 2, Dyer 5-16 2-2 13, Thatcher 6-12 4-4 16, Griffith 1-3 2-2 4, Schroer 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 22-53 10-16 55.
North Central (64)
Austin 2-2 2-2 6, Spencer 4-8 7-11 15, Gilman 2-6 6-6 11, Samm 2-8 3-4 9, Woodard 7-11 6-7 20, Drake 0-2 0-0 0, Nickless 0-1 0-0 0, Metheny 1-2 1-1 3. Totals: 18-39 25-31 64.
3-point fieldgoals -- Clay City 1-15 (Dyer 1-8, Vansickle 0-6, Griffith 0-1), N.Central 3-11 (Samm 2-5, Gilman 1-4, Spencer 0-2). Total Rebounds -- Clay City 26 (Thatcher 10, Dyer 8), N.Central 17 (Woodard 6). Total Fouls -- Clay City 22, N.Central 14. Fouled out -- Clay City (Griffith, Roeschlein). Turnovers -- Clay City 11, N.Central 11.