Times Staff Reporter
North Clay's seventh- and-eighth grade basketball teams each earned its first victory of the season in hotly contested match-ups against Sarah Scott Middle School Thursday evening.
The seventh-grade squad squeaked out a 46-45 thriller. The Knights looked to be on their way to an easy win, scoring the games' first nine points. A scrappy Scotties defense helped them get back into things quickly, cutting the Knight lead to 21-19 at the half.
A hotly contested first half gave way to a wild second half, which saw 13 lead changes and six ties. It also saw a bit of controversy.
After Sarah Scott went ahead 35-34 in the final seconds of the third quarter, Joe Ball banked in a half-court shot as time expired, giving the Knights a 37-35 lead going into the game's final frame. North Clay coach Clay Huffman said the shot "carried a lot of momentum into the fourth quarter."
The shot was greatly disputed, however. The buzzer indicating the end of the period did not sound and the Sarah Scott coaching staff argued angrily the shot should not count. After a brief conference, officials declared the shot good and the Knight lead stood.
The fourth quarter was equally frantic. C.J. Brown gave the Scotties a one-point lead with a driving lay-up with 45 seconds to go. Unfazed, the Knights went down court and set up Jacob Harden for a midrange jumper. A clutch Harden drained the shot, and a North Clay defensive stand later, the Knights had a hard earned 46-45 win.
"This game could go a long way to making us more excited to play," Huffman said of his team, who improved to 1-1 on the season. "We still have a lot of things to work on but we've come a long way from our first practice and I look for us to improve."
By comparison, the eighth-grade contest was greatly lacking in thrills. Despite the lack of excitement, North Clay was able to take their season opener by a 29-21 count.
The first three quarters were very low on scoring, as neither team put forth more than five points in any individual quarter. Like the first game however, there was a great deal of intrigue in the game's closing period.
The Knights started the quarter with a 9-3 run to open up a 24-15 lead. The seemingly dormant Scotties then made a surprising 6-0 run, capped by a misaimed cross-court pass by Jordan Dressler that accidentally went into the basket, to pull within three.
The Knights didn't panic though, and answered with a 4-0 run of their own, which ended with a gorgeous cross-court pass from Jim Mace to Connor Ringo, putting the Knights win on ice.
Leading scorers for North Clay were Ethan Whitson with 10 and Nate Newton with six. Despite the victory, Knights coach Shawn Hughes said he expects a better effort from his team in coming games.
"I thought we were pretty rusty tonight," Hughes said. "It was the first game and I think the guys were a little nervous. I'm happy we won, but we have a lot of room for improvement."
Though he wasn't fully pleased with his team's effort, Hughes said he fully expected his team to show improvement sooner rather than later.
"I think we're going to get a lot better," Hughes said. "I think if we really bust it in practice, we can definitely improve very quickly."
North Clay's sixth-grade was also victorious in an A-B doubleheader at Sarah Scott. The A-team, led by Tucker Stewart's 14 and Nathan Thomas' 10, won 44-31, while the B-team took home a 13-7 win. Nathan DeSue and Jackson Paul led the Knights scoring with five and four points respectively.
The sixth-grade travels to Otter Creek on Nov. 9 at 6 p.m. while the seventh- and eighth-grade host St. Pats the same evening at 6 p.m.