Times Sports Editor
SWITZ CITY -- The Clay City Eels are hoping to go two-for-two in tournaments this season and after taking the South Putnam Tourney over the weekend, started the second leg with a win over Eastern, 54-53 in the Greene County Tourney.
The Eels had to scramble for most of the game before subduing the determined Thunderbirds.
Clay City overcame a nine point first half deficit and then saw Eastern erase a nine point deficit in the final 2:40 of the game before the Eels held on for the victory.
"You know that Coach (Andy) Igel's team will always play hard for 32, 36 or 40 minutes, however long the game lasts," said Clay City coach Grant McVay.
Unfortunately for Clay City that intensity is what made the Greene County opener perhaps a little more difficult than what Eastern's 2-7 record coming in might have let on.
The Eels fell behind 11-2 early in the game when T-Bird freshman, Davis Russell knocked home a 3-pointer and David Gray scored a pair of baskets.
Clay City trailed for much of the first half, only getting back into the game when Levi Seymour completed a momentum shifting three-point play and both Kyler Rhodes and Will Kennedy nailed 3-pointers of their own.
"They played so much harder than us at the start of the game," said McVay of Eastern's intensity after tip-off. "We were fortunate to put together that 13-0 run at the end of the half."
Contributing to the Eels run was the T-Birds foul trouble, which sent starters Ben Arthur and Gray to the bench in the second quarter.
Arthur's presence at 6'7, was a contributing factor to some shooting woes that Clay City had in the first half when the Eels shot just eight-of-26 (30 percent).
Arthur wasn't long for the court in the second either, picking up his third foul just 11 seconds into the half and went back to the bench.
Kennedy took the cue and got his offense going for the Eels which led the Eels in a 12-4run to open the half.
After Logan Higgins opened the half with a free throw, Russell knocked home a 3-pointer to give the T-Birds a 28-26 lead.
From there however, Kennedy hit two free throws and Jordan Defore turned a defensive steal into two more points. An Eastern turnover led to a 3-pointer from Kennedy and Orry Heffner finished a momentum shifting 9-0 run to give Clay City a 37-29 lead.
After the game, McVay pointed towards Arthur's absence as a pivotal factor.
"He's 6'7 and Eastern does an excellent job of getting him the ball," said the Eels head man. "The run we had was a result of getting Gray and Arthur in foul trouble. That allowed us to get to the basket."
Kennedy's third quarter was not to be missed for Clay City fans as the junior hit all seven shots he took, four from the field and all three free throws.
His final shot was part of a three-point play that gave Clay City a 44-33 lead near the end of the third quarter.
"(Kennedy) was of the right mindset," said McVay. "He hit two 3-pointers, but didn't force perimeter shots. . .I was pleased with his positive energy on the floor."
Clay City led 54-45 with 2:40 left after Braxton Griffith had found Kennedy on back-to-back drives to the basket. The final assist to Kennedy gave the 6'4 junior his 30th point on the night to go with six boards.
But Eastern wasn't going to go away.
The T-Birds went full court in their defensive pressure and forced three late turnovers. On the offensive end, Eastern's Gray went baseline and Arthur spun in the paint for a basket that narrowed the lead to 54-49 with 1:50 left.
Another Clay City turnover led to a score by sophomore Cody Sparks in the paint and the Eels turned the ball over for the 12th time after running the clock down to 33 seconds.
Arthur scored his 10th point with just 10 seconds left and the T-Birds fouled Seymour with seconds left in the game.
Seymour had hit all five of his previous charity tosses in the game, but missed the front end of the one-and-one shot, but Defore pulled down the rebound to deny Eastern a potential game-winning opportunity.
Seymour was second on the team with seven points and Rhodes had five boards for the Eels who improved to 7-2 on the season.
At White River Valley H.S.
Greene County Tourney
Clay City (54)
Griffith 0-2 0-2 0, Cook 0-4 1-2 1, Kennedy 11-20 6-6 30, Rhodes 1-4 0-2 3, Defore 3-4 0-0 6, Seymour 1-1 5-6 7, Higgins 1-5 1-2 3, Heffner 1-3 2-2 4. Totals: 18-43 15-22 54.
Eastern (Greene) (53)
Gray 4-5 2-4 10, McNeal 3-6 3-6 9, Jacob 0-3 0-0 0, Russell 2-7 0-1 6, Arthur 2-3 6-6 10, Igel 2-4 0-0 6, Sparks 4-5 0-0 10, Graham 0-3 2-2 2. Totals: 17-36 12-18 53.
3-point fieldgoals - CC 3-6 (Rhodes 1-2, Kennedy 2-2, Higgins 0-1, Griffith 0-1), En 6-16 (Sparks 2-3, Igel 2-4, Russell 2-6, Jacob 0-1, McNeal 0-2). Total Rebounds - CC 26 (Kennedy 6, Rhodes 5), En 23 (Arthur 5). Total Fouls -- CC 17, En 18. Turnovers -- CC 12, En 14.