Times Sports Editor
MARTINSVILLE -- The Clay City Eels had the best fan support, the best band and the best student block. But unfortunately, it was Jac-Cen-Del that came away having proved it had the best team at the Martinsville Regional on Saturday.
The top-ranked Eagles did nothing to disprove their spot on top of the Class A rankings, using its high octane transition game to claim a 64-43 win over the Eels in the afternoon game. Jac-Cen-Del then came back to claim the regional championship with a 61-44 victory over Bethesda Christian in the nightcap.
Clay City coach Grant McVay offered no arguments about the Eagles' talent following the Eels season-ending loss.
"No offense to anybody we've played this year, because I think we've played some good teams without question," McVay said. "But I think (Jac-Cen-Del) is the best team we've played this year."
The Eels went toe-to-talon with the Eagles over the first half of the opening quarter, resulting in a 6-6 deadlock.
Clay City was able to keep the game at its pace while not allowing Jac-Cen-Del's exhausting transition game to get into the open court.
Levi Seymour scored six points in that first quarter and was key, battling inside for the Eels despite a size disadvantage versus the athletic Eagles. However, Seymour was forced to the sideline with a cut on his leg that required some medical attention near the mid-point of the first quarter.
The Eagles pushed the ball up the floor to score on five consecutive possessions and the Eels seemed out of sorts with the breakneck pace.
Tim Arnett scored twice on offensive putbacks, Gerald Hardesty added a lay-in, Matt Gehl scored off a steal and Blake Sutton sank a 3 --pointer and suddenly the Eagles led 19-8.
"We said during the week they didn't ascend to No. 1 by way of charity, They're awfully talented," McVay said of the Eagles. "Ultimately their athleticism on the boards was the biggest problem of them all. We knew coming in how athletic they were. You could see it on tape. But still, live and in person, their athleticism was probably even a notch above what I understood it to be coming in."
With an 11-point lead heading into the second quarter, the Eagles kept the heat on as their leading-scorer, Gehl, got going for six points in the period and Trevor Arnett added five of his 13 points.
Jac-Cen-Del was able to extend its lead to 33-17 at the halftime break while outrebounding the Eels 19-11.
Coming out of the break, Clay City pushed the tempo as Will Kennedy scored to start the half and answered a Tim Arnett jumper with another score. Jordan Defore followed with a bucket for Clay City, but for each Eels' score, the Eagles continued to have an answer.
Seymour, one of six Clay City seniors, did yeoman's work inside, scoring 18 points and grabbing six rebounds. His second score of the quarter cut the lead to 41-27, but Hardesty scored, Tim Arnett followed and Blake Sutton drilled a 3-pointer following Seymour's score to bump the lead to 48-29.
Seymour did everything he could to keep the score close in the third quarter with his 10th point of the quarter to end the period with Clay City trailing 54-36.
Logan Higgins opened the fourth period with a jumper and Braxton Griffth's 3-pointer got the Eels back to within 57-43, but the Eels would get no closer.
Gehl sank four late free throws to cap the victory for the Eagles.
Despite the loss, McVay was proud of his team's accomplishments and felt that his senior group would appreciate this season more as time went by.
"It's hard to reflect and appreciate right now," McVay said. "I told them (in the locker room) as time shines its light on today's effort I think they're going to be proud."
Kennedy had four points and five rebounds for the Eels with Defore contributing four points and six boards. Griffith had eight points for the Eels with Kyler Rhodes adding two along with Orry Heffner.
Jac-Cen-Del (23-2) advances to the Seymour Semi-State to take on North Daviess (21-5) a member of the SWIAC Conference. The Eels conclude their season with a 17-8 mark overall.
Class A Martinsville Regional
Clay City (43)
Kennedy 2-14 0-2 4, Defore 2-4 0-0 4, Seymour 8-13 2-2 18, Griffith 3-11 0-0 8, Rhodes 1-3 0-2 2, Higgins 1-5 3-3 5, Heffner 0-2 2-2 2, Newton 0-1 0-0 0, Fry 0-0 0-0 0, Decker 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 17-53 7-11 43.
Gehl 5-8 6-6 16, Sutton 4-9 0-0 10, Hardesty 4-7 1-4 9, Tim Arnett 7-14 2-3 16, Trevor Arnett 6-9 1-4 13, Adams 0-2 0-0 0, Purdy 0-2 0-0 0, Harmeyer 0-0 0-0 0, Lunsford 0-0 0-0 0, Wilhoit 0-0 0-0 0, Harlemert 0-0 0-0 0, Abplanalp 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 26-52 10-17 64.
3-point fieldgoals -- CC 2-15 (Griffith 2-8, Kennedy 0-4, Rhodes 0-1, Higgins 0-1, Hefner 0-1), JCD 2-10 (Sutton 2-4, Tim Arnett 0-2, Adams 0-2, Gehl 0-1, Trevor Arnett 0-1). Total Rebounds -- CC 27 (Defore 6, Seymour 6), JCD 39 (Tim Arnett 10, Gehl 10). Total Fouls -- CC 18, JCD 9. Turnovers -- CC 16, JCD 15.