Times Sports Editor
CLAY CITY -- After opening night, the Clay City Eels will have a hard time topping the show they put on for their home basketball fans.
The girls' basketball team used a 26-11 spurt in the third quarter to take control of the visiting No. 4 ranked Eminence Eels and cruise to a 65-46 win.
"This is a big win for us," smiled coach Keith Jones, now in his third year with the Eels. "We'll see what this does for us, but that was one of the best third quarters we've played in a long time. This is a huge win for us."
Indeed, not only was Friday's victory the first win over Eminence in at least eight years, Clay City also knocked off a conference foe who had received pre-season acknowledgement as the No. 4 ranked, Class A team after going 19-3 last year.
The Eels got a balanced scoring effort from their team with six players scoring nine or more points and a newly installed, aggressive press helped force 33 turnovers from Eminence.
That full court effort pressure helped keep the Eels even with Eminence over the first half while the visitors attempted to establish the sizable duo of 6'1 Aulani Sinclair and 6'0 Jacci Martin.
"We've been trying to work on the press," said Jones of his team's defensive pressure. "We don't always have to steal the ball for it to be effective, we got our hands on a lot of basketballs tonight."
Sinclair, who busted Clay City for 32 points in last year's loss, was still a forceful presence throughout, but the Eels were able to get Martin in early foul trouble. With the senior on the bench, the Eels focused their defense on Sinclair in the second period.
Using a combination of a Triangle-and-2 defense along with a Box-and-one, Sinclair scored Eminence's only two baskets of the quarter as Clay City led 21-17 at halftime.
Kelly McCullough had seven points and five rebounds before the halftime break.
"Kelly did a heck of a job," said Jones of his sophomore.
Clay City didn't rest on their laurels in the second half, instead, they continued to roll as senior forward Angie Camp got untracked.
After just two first half points, Clay City found the senior open several times in the decisive third quarter. Camp also did plenty of her own dirty work, rebounding and getting to the line 13 times in the second half.
A jumper from Camp started a 10-3 run early in the quarter that gave the Eels some breathing room at 33-22.
McCullough also scored a basket inside, part of her nine-point evening before she left with an apparent knee/leg injury midway through the quarter.
Senior Emily Reed was effective in the passing lanes, making a steal and feeding the ball inside to Camp, who was fouled and made both free throws. Reed later tied up an inbounds pass that led to a free throw from Britney Glass, who had 12 points.
Leading by 10 points, the Eels continued to add to their lead, getting an easy layin by Glass off a long outlet pass from Steiner. A rebound putback by Camp and a drive from her as well pushed the lead to 44-30.
In the closing minute of the quarter, Clay City got a rebound basket from Lydia Farmer and a free throw from Steiner to push the advantage to 47-30 to end the quarter.
"We felt coming in that we had a good chance to win tonight," said Jones. "I think our press really bothered (Eminence). As a team last year we didn't always have the ability to press."
Over the final eight minutes, Clay City's lead grew to as many as 19 points before Eminence made a final run with some pressure of their own.
The Eels forced seven turnovers by Clay City in the final quarter and put together a 14-8 run led by Martin, who hit a short jumper and then got to the line for two free throws.
Eminence got within 58-46 on a combined 14 fourth quarter points from Sinclair and Martin.
But the Eels were up to the task at the free throw line to clinch the win.
Reed hit all six of her attempts in the quarter and Steiner knocked in all four of hers as Clay City capped the upset victory.
"We were a little jittery early," mentioned Jones of his team's early struggles. "But we were able to stay (in the press). There's not too many players around as good as Sinclair, but we were able to get some things going."
The JV team played just two quarters, but took home a 16-9 win led by six points from Lindsey Hughbanks and four apiece from Chantel Narlock and Sloan Miller.
The Eels (1-0 overall, 1-0 Tri-River Conference) will travel to Shakamak on Tuesday to being a three-game road swing at 6 p.m.
At Clay City
Merrick 2-5 4-8 8, Ray 0-8 0-0 0, Sinclair 8-14 5-9 22, Green 0-1 0-0 0, Martin 4-11 5-6 14, Whaley 0-3 1-4 1, Harden 0-0 0-0 0, Rief 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 14-44 15-27 46.
Clay City (65)
Glass 4-4 4-9 12, Reed 2-8 6-6 10, Steiner 1-6 6-8 8, Camp 7-17 7-14 21, McCullough 3-4 2-4 9, Targett 0-5 0-0 0, Narlock 2-7 1-2 5. Totals: 19-51 26-43 65
3-point fieldgoals -- Em 2-9 (Martin 1-5, Sinclair 1-1, Kay 0-1, Merrick 0-1), CC 1-4 (McCullough 1-1, Reed 0-2, Steiner 0-1). Total Rebounds -- Em 36 (Sinclair 12, Martin 6), CC 33 (Camp 10, McCullough 7). Total Fouls -- Em 26, CC 21. Fouled out -- Em (Martin, Green, Ray), CC (Glass, Targett). Turnovers -- Em 33, CC 25.