Times Sports Editor
CLAY CITY -- The Clay City Eels appear to be hitting their stride at just the right time.
The Eels gritted out a 42-41 home win Thursday night that was their sixth-consecutive victory since a loss to North Central in the Greene County Tourney on Jan. 10.
Clay City avenged that previous loss by clamping down in the third quarter, outscoring North Central 11-2 in the period to turn a 25-22 halftime deficit into a 33-27 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The Eels would lead for much of the fourth quarter, but North Central narrowed the gap to 42-41 on a score by Donnie Abrams with 26.3 seconds remaining.
The Thunderbirds had as shot at the win after an Eels' turnover, but a shot at the buzzer from Bobby Swaby rolled off the rim.
"I'm proud of how these kids dug in the second half," coach Grant McVay said. "We established our position and (North Central) was going to have to fight for what they wanted."
Clay City scored the first nine points of the third quarter and forced the Thunderbirds into eight turnovers in the period.
Jordan Defore opened the half with a bucket and shortly afterwards, Braxton Griffith knocked home a 3-pointer off a transition pass following one of those T-Birds' miscues. That bucket gave the Eels the lead and Defore followed another turnover with a score off an offensive rebound. Defore added a third score, on the way to a team-high 13 points, to cap the run to give the Eels a 31-25 lead.
The Eels carried a six-point lead into the fourth quarter, but North Central's Jordan Stefancik opened the stanza by sinking a 3-pointer from the corner to narrow the lead to 33-30.
The Thunderbirds started off a run of their own, getting a bucket from 6'7 Donnie Abrams and Dylan Walker followed with a two-pointer and a 3-pointer as North Central reclaimed the lead, 37-35 with 3:38 left.
The Eels held Abrams to just five points through the first three quarters before he broke free to score six of his 11 points in final minutes of the game. His second fieldgoal of the quarter gave North Central a 39-36 lead before Defore drove into the lane and answered in traffic.
Another North Central turnover, one of 19 in the game, sent senior Dylan Walker to the bench with 2:31 left and the Eels' Will Kennedy sank two free throws to give the Eels a 40-39 lead. A turnover at the other end gave the Eels the ball back and Defore came through again to give Clay City a 42-39 lead.
North Central brought the ball up the floor and called a timeout with 58.4 seconds remaining in the game.
When play resumed, the T-Birds found Abrams inside again, to get within 42-41 with just 26.3 seconds left.
"He was as active as I've ever seen him play,' McVay said of Abrams. "He had 11 rebounds and blocked five or six shots. Will (Kennedy) did a good job in the half court defending him."
On the ensuing inbounds play, Clay City turned the ball over on the sideline to give the visitors a final chance at the win.
Having committed just three team fouls in the half, Clay City was able to foul three times successively to run precious time off the clock to set up the final play.
With fewer than eight seconds left, the Eels played solid defense before Boyll broke free, curling into the lane where his challenged shot rolled off the rim.
"You can give coach (Keith) Jones all the credit," McVay said. "I was aware of the foul situation, but he said to take the timeout (and foul). When that happens, offensively, it's hard not to be disrupted. It's hard to make adjustments and they didn't have any timeouts. Swaby ended up on a broken play, but Jordan (Defore) chests him up and forced him to go over him. If he doesn't, (Swaby) has a lay-up.
"I'm very pleased with the kids," McVay added. "We'll move on to another opponent and another day."
Griffith had eight points for the Eels with Kennedy adding 10 points and eight rebounds. Defore added another seven boards for the Eels, who improve to 11-5 overall and 2-1 in the Tri-River Conference.
The Eels' JV team fell 43-39 despite getting 20 points from Ben Denker and a 10-point, nine-rebound night from Josh Decker. Jake Tiefel added nine points.
The Eels look to continue their winning ways in another TRC game on Saturday with a noon tip-off for the JV team.
At Clay City
North Central (41)
Swaby 4-9 0-0 10, Boyll 1-1 0-0 2, Walker 3-5 0-0 7, Abrams 5-11 1-2 11, Enstrom 0-4 0-0 0, Stefancik 3-3 0-0 8, Lindsay 0-0 0-0 0, Rehmel 1-1 1-2 3. Totals: 17-34 2-4 41.
Clay City (42)
Griffith 3-8 0-0 8, Seymour 1-3 0-0 2, Kennedy 2-13 5-6 10, Rhodes 1-3 0-0 2, Defore 6-10 1-3 13, Newton 2-2 0-0 5, Higgins 0-4 0-0 0, Heffner 1-5 0-0 2. Totals: 16-48 6-9 42.
3-point fieldgoals -- NC 5-12 (Swaby 2-5, Stefancik 2-2, Walker 1-1, Abrams 0-2, Enstrom 0-2), CC 4-12 (Griffith 2-4, Newton 1-1, Kennedy 1-5, Defore 0-1, Rhodes 0-1). Total Rebounds -- NC 25 (Abrams 11), CC 27 (Kennedy 8, Defore 7). Total Fouls -- NC 12, CC 11. Fouled out -- NC (Walker). Turnovers -- NC 19, CC 10.