Clay City's Garrett Thatcher (left) shoots over an Eminence defender on Saturday night. Thatcher had 18 points.
- Eels face Clovers on Tuesday
CLAY CITY -- There were so many 'what ifs' during the 2004 season for the Clay City Eels. Six times the Eels lost by five points or fewer during a disappointing 9-13 season.
Early indications this season are that the Eels learned their lesson last year and figured out how to win the ones that got away last year. After opening the season with a come-from-behind 67-61 overtime win over South Vermillion, the Eels kept their cool in a tight second half to earn a 55-47 win over visiting Eminence on Saturday.
Clay City turned the ball over just five times in the game and overcame some cold shooting and a determined opponent to advance to 3-0 for the first time in more than a decade. "That was a real positive (the win) tonight," commented coach Grant McVay. "I was very pleased that we didn't turn over the ball and we kept our composure until we could hit our free throws at the end."
Senior guard Josey Vansickle sparked the Eels with a quarter opening 3-pointer to get Clay City rolling in the fourth period. The long range shot gave Clay City a 40-37 advantage in a quarter that featured three lead changes over a short span.
Dustin Griffith gave Clay City a 45-44 lead with a free throw and following a traveling call on Eminence, Garrett Thatcher made a nice spinning layin off a feed from Joel Farmer with 2:05 left. Ahead 47-44, Clay City grabbed a rebound after an Eminence miss and worked the clock down to under a minute. Eminence was forced to foul Vansickle, who calmly knocked down both shots with 53 seconds remaining. At the other end, Eminence's shot was blocked and the Eels fouled Clay City's Griffith who hit both shots to put the game out of reach.
"(Eminence) deserves a lot of credit," commented McVay. "They had a good game plan and executed it fairly well."
Eminence put together a nearly perfect first quarter, hitting six-of-eight shots from the field and time and again drove through the Eels defense for layins or rebounded putbacks.
"We really did a poor job of defending once our adrenaline wore off," said McVay of his team's early game struggles. "It was an interesting halftime."
Trailing 27-24 at the halftime break, McVay's midgame speech sparked the Eels to a return to form as Vansickle scored on an early drive to the hoop and Thatcher finally got his game rolling. The 6'3 forward was much more active in the second half on his way to an 18 point evening.
His jumper and two free throws got Clay City within 31-30 and from there the game was a tooth and nail battle. After an 8-2 Clay City run gave them a brief lead at 32-31 with 3:36 left in the third quarter, Eminence responded with back-to-back scores to put Clay City behind by three. But a 3-pointer from Vansickle, who had 21 points, tied the score and following an Eminence score, Thatcher yanked down a 3-point miss and got the putback to end the period tied at 37-apiece.
The two teams scrapped it out in the final quarter with neither team leading by more than three until Clay City took control in the closing two minutes of the game.
In the opening period, Eminence took full advantage of Vansickle picking up his second foul just two minutes into the game.
Missing their leading scorer, Clay City got some quality minutes off the bench from senior Cole Schroer who picked up the slack by scoring four of his eight points in Vansickle's absence.
"Cole is a perfect example of a kid who really puts his heart into what he's doing," commented McVay. "You know the effort is always going to be there. I'm very pleased with what he's brought to the team attitude-wise. It's nice he scored eight points tonight, but he brings a lot more than that."
After being outrebounded 13-9 in the first half, Clay City went to the boards strong in the final 16 minutes, getting 11 rebounds in the fourth quarter and seven in the third quarter to help offset a rough five-of-18 shooting performance in the third period.
"Last week we talked about taking care of the ball," said McVay. "It's still a work in progress but we did a better job."
Winning the turnover battle was instrumental in the Eels victory as they forced 15 in the game, including six in their pivotal third quarter comeback.
The win gives the Eels a 3-0 mark for the first time since a team many Clay City fans will remember quite fondly, the '74-75 team that won their first five games on the way to a 22-2 mark and a regional championship game berth. That team capped the sterling career of standout Bob Heaton and a Clay City dynasty of sorts that won a regional championship the year before and won 46 of 50 games at one point.
The Clay City JV also improved to 3-0 this season by downing Eminence 49-37. Clay City was led by Orry Heffner who tallied 18 points. Will Kennedy chipped in with 14 and Braxton Griffith added 10.
Up next for the Eels is a Tuesday trip to Cloverdale for a showdown with the 3-1 Clovers beginning at 6 p.m.
Clay City 55, Eminence 47
Moss 6-14 1-1 13, Whaley 3-6 0-0 7, Lockwood 3-8 0-0 6, Adkisson 1-5 5-6 7, Stinson 7-11 0-2 14, Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Catt 0-0 0-0 0, Buis 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 20-44 6-9 47.
Clay City (55)
Griffith 0-3 3-6 3, Vansickle 7-12 5-6 21, Farmer 1-3 0-0 2, Johnson 1-2 0-0 3, Thatcher 8-19 2-3 18, Bettenbrock 0-1 0-0 0, Schroer 3-8 2-2 8. Totals: 20-53 12-17 55.
3-point fieldgoals -- EM 1-3 (Whaley 1-2, Adkisson 0-1), CC 3-9 (Vansickle 2-4, Johnson 1-2, Bettenbrock 0-1, Griffith 0-1). Total Rebounds -- EM 28 (Adkisson 9), CC 26 (Farmer 7, Thatcher 6). Total Fouls -- EM 17, CC 13. Turnovers -- EM 15, CC 5.