BY CLAY CUNNINGHAM
Times Staff Reporter
CLAY CITY -- The Clay City boys basketball team earned its first victory of the season Friday night, taking a 50-38 decision in their home opener against Union.
The Eels started slowly, as they failed to connect from the field for nearly eight-and-a-half minutes in the first period, which saw them facing an 8-2 deficit. Clay City worked its way back into the game, but was unable to ever firmly establish momentum, and went into the locker room trailing 19-16.
The Eels' pattern of sticking around without taking control of the game finally ended when Tyler Bridgewater, who had previously been held scoreless, scored five consecutive points to give Clay City its first lead since 2-0. After Union took the lead back on a pair of free throws, Ben Denker, who led all scorers with 12, raced down the floor in the final seconds, hitting a running lay-up as time expired, and the Eels went into the game's final frame with a 28-27 lead.
The first half of the fourth quarter was a back-and-forth affair, which featured four lead changes. With Clay City trailing 32-31, Bridgewater again sparked a rally, scoring on consecutive possessions. Jake Tiefel followed Bridgewater's effort with consecutive scores of his own. All of which was part of the decisive 18-7 run that put Clay City in the win column for the first time in 2009.
"It feels good," Eel coach Vance Edmondson said, following what was his first win as a varsity head coach. "We played hard and made enough key shots in the second half to hold on."
A major difference maker in the fourth quarter was free throws. At one point during Clay City's decisive run, the Bulldogs missed eight consecutive free throws. By contrast, the Eels made seven of their last 10 attempts in the game's final moments.
Another key component for Clay City was applying pressure, which led to 22 Bulldog turnovers. Edmondson said a key preaching point he made at the half was for his team to swarm the ball to take Union out of their game.
"Our main key was applying on-the-ball pressure," Edmondson said. "Guys stepped up when they needed to and we got the win."
Specific players Edmondson praised were Bridgewater and Logan Higgins, who tied two other players for the team lead in rebounds with six.
The win moves Clay City to 1-1 on the season. After losing the bulk of a roster, which brought home a sectional title last season, the Eels faced a rough transition entering the season with not only a new coach, but also a string oF inexperienced varsity players. Edmondson said it was crucial for his team to gain confidence from this early season victory, and for them to play as consistently well as they did in Friday's second half.
"We've got to play like (we did on Friday) from here on out,' Edmondson said. "But now that we've got that first win under our belt, hopefully the momentum will carry over and the guys will be able to play that way for the rest of the season."
The Clay City JV team also rode a strong second half to victory Friday night. Trailing 21-16 at the half, Clay City outscored Union 22-5 in the third period on route to a 44-33 win.
Logan Fry, Tyler Allen and Colten Harbour led a balanced Clay City attack with eight points a piece, while Kole Smith an Jake Tiefel added seven.
There was a scary moment for the Eels when Smith fell coming down with a rebound, hitting his head on the floor. He left the game and did not return. Edmondson said it was believed Smith suffered a mild concussion and would receive tests in the coming days to test the severity of the injury,
Clay City varsity and JV return to action next Friday, when the host Bloomfield. JV tipoff is at 6:30 p.m.
At Clay City
Howard 3 0-1 6, Collins 1 0-1 2, Talpas 2 4-4 9, Phegley 2 0-0 4, Fettig 5 1-3 11, Gambill 3 0-1 6
Clay City (50)
Newton 1 4-6 6, Denker 4 3-3 12, Jenkins 1 0-1 2, Higgins 3 2-5 8, Tiefel 2 1-4 5, Bridgewater 4 1-1 9, Moore 2 4-6 8
3-point field goals -- U 1-9 (Talpas 1-3, Howard 0-3, Collins 0-3) CC 1-13 (Newton 0-4, Denker 1-2, Jenkins 0-3, Tiefel 0-1, Bridgewater 0-1, Moore 0-2) Total Rebounds -- U 24 (Howard 9, Fettig 6) CC 27 (Newton, Higgins, Moore all with 6), Team Fouls -- U 21 CC 12, Turnovers -- U 22, CC 17.