CLAY CITY -- The Clay City Eels gave thanks Wednesday for the game-winning basket by Kyler Rhodes.
Rhodes' three-pointer from the top of the key lifted the Eels to a season-opening 38-36 overtime victory over the visiting South Vermillion Wildcats.
One down and 20 more games to go for the Eels.
"You can look at our scouting report (and) the last thing it says at the very bottom, 'This is the first step,' toward what we would like to be a 25-game season. But regardless, it's the first step out of 21 to get to the tournament," Clay City coach Grant McVay said.
Rhodes' three salvaged a victory from an ugly contest.
The two teams combined for 36 turnovers. Clay City shot 38 percent (13-34) from the floor, while South Vermillion hit 36 percent 914-39).
"It's pretty at the end of the year," McVay said.
Trailing 31-26 early in the fourth quarter, Clay City got back into the contest with a pair of threes by Braxton Griffith, who shared high-point honors with Will Kennedy.
Kennedy tied the score at 34-all on a reverse lay-up with 3:45 left in regulation play. Getting the ball back with a minute to play, Clay City held it for one last shot, but the lay up attempt rolled off the rim.
South Vermillion scored first in overtime and had possession and the lead in the final minute. The Wildcats turned the ball over and with 18 seconds left, Rhodes hit the game-winning shot. Kennedy added a free throw with 2.4 seconds left.
"Rhodes hits the game winner. How did Will (Kenned) make a big impact? He was a presence inside that allowed Braxton (Griffith) to hit a couple of bit threes for us in the fourth quarter," McVay said. "It allowed us to penetrate more."
South Vermillion controlled most of the contest. But after trailing 23-19 in the third quarter, the Eels came out in a trap that rattled the Wildcats.
"But having some experience has allowed us to do some additional things," McVay said.
"When you have seven (returning players) -- and with the exception of a couple of our guards are pretty interchangeable, as far as 6-2, 6-3 type kids -- they know our defensive system. At the end, we got back in it and got stops at the end with our old-fashioned man-to-man Clay City defense."
South Vermillion played the opener without varsity coach Rodney Idlewine, who was serving a one-game suspension after being ejected from the sectional contest last year.
"I thought their staff did a great job, but we wanted to keep them as off-balance as possible. Early on, I thought it was going to work to perfection," McVay said, noting the Eels opened in a zone instead of traditional man-to-man.
Clay City scored the first four points of the game, but missed opportunities to extend the lead and South Vermillion came back to lead 11-9 after one quarter. The Wildcats were up 23-19 at halftime.
With three minutes left in the third period, Clay City faced its biggest challenge. Jordan Defore picked up his third and fourth fouls and Logan Higgins and Levi Seymour were called for their third, while South Vermillion extended its lead to 29-22.
But the Eels blanked the Wildcats over the final 2:30 of the third period, while Kennedy put back a rebound and Griffith knocked in another two, cutting the deficit to 29-26 heading into the fourth quarter.
Clay City returns to action Dec. 5 at Union-Dugger.
At Clay City
South Vermillion 11 12 6 5 2 -- 36
Clay City 9 10 7 8 4 -- 38
South Vermillion -- Walsh 6-11 2-2 14, Harpenau 2-4 2-4 6, Hastings 2-4 0-0 4, Laswell 0-6 0-0 0, Mumaw 3-12 0-0 8, McMasters 0-0 0-0 0, Reyher 1-2 2-2 4. Totals 14-39 FG, 6-8 FT, 36 TP.
Clay City -- Kennedy 5-10 1-2 13, Defore 0-4 0-0 0, Seymour 0-1 0-0 0, Rhodes 2-4 3-4 8, Griffith 5-13 0-0 13, Heffner 1-1 0-0 2, Higgins 0-1 2-2 2. Totals 13-34 FG, 6-8 FT, 38 TP.
3-pt. FG -- SV 2-12 (Mumaw 2-4, Reyher 0-1, Walsh 0-1, Harpenau 0-1, Laswell 0-5), Clay City 6-16 (Griffith 3-10, Kennedy 2-4, Rhodes 1-1, Defore 0-1). Total fouls -- SV 11, Clay City 12. Fouled Out -- None. Turnovers -- SV 18, Clay City 18. Rebounds -- SV 25 (Walsh 8), Clay City 24 (Kennedy, Rhodes 6). Steals -- SV 15 (Walsh, Reyher 4), Clay City 8 (Rhodes 5), Blocked shots -- SV 1 (Harpenau), Clay City 3 (Higgins 2, Kennedy).
Junior Varsity -- South Vermillion won, 53-24.
Next Game -- Clay City (1-0) plays at Union-Dugger Dec. 5.