Times Staff Reporter
The Clay City boys' basketball team fought valiantly, but ultimately dropped its third consecutive game, losing a tight 41-38 game against the previously winless Eagles of South Putnam in first round action of the Eagle Holiday Classic.
With Clay City trailing by two with 6.8 seconds remaining, South Putnam's Dean Varvel stole an Eels in bounds pass, and the Eagles were able to run the clock down to 0.6 seconds before Derek Dean was fouled.
Dean sunk the second of two free throws, putting his team up by three. Clay City's desperation, full-court in bounds pass was stolen, and the Eels fell to 3-4 on the season.
The ending wasn't without controversy, however. There appeared to be contact as Varvel made his crucial steal, and Eels coach Vance Edmondson was visibly upset a foul wasn't called. While he didn't solely blame the non-call for the end result, he said he definitely felt a whistle should have been blown.
"I thought we got bumped," Edmondson said. "There was definitely contact, and I think there could have been a foul called."
Getting close only to come up short was a recurring theme for Clay City on the evening. After trailing 13-8 at the end of the first quarter, the Eels got within one on three separate occasions in the second period, but never took the lead. Nathan Welty pushed the South Putnam lead back to four with a three-point play in the final minutes of the second quarter.
The Eels took their first lead of the game, scoring five quick points on Matt Moore's three-point play, and Tyler Bridgewater's steal and lay in, giving them a 22-21 edge.
Then Clay City went cold. South Putnam's zone defense held Clay City scoreless for over eight minutes. Eagles coach Micah Elliot said he made defensive changes to utilize the size advantage his club held over Clay City, and was pleased his squad was able to momentarily shut down the Eels offense.
"We changed up our entire cover scheme," Elliot said. "We really emphasized clogging the paint, and getting specific pressure on their shooters, and it paid off."
The Eagles were also aided by a strong offensive output by Cameron Chestnut, who accounted for eight of the 10 points South Putnam scored on their 10-0 run. Chestnut led the Eagles with 12 points, and led all players with eight rebounds. South Putnam obtained a decisive effort in the paint, out-rebounding the Eels by a 34-22 margin.
Clay City's fourth quarter rally was made possible by a gutsy effort from Logan Higgins, Higgins, who missed the Eels previous two contests with a twisted ankle, scored 11 of his game-high 15 points in the fourth quarter, and was the catalyst for his team's near rally.
After a 3-1 start, three straight losses have dropped Clay City to 3-4. Edmondson said he expected struggles with his young squad, but stressed they were capable of beating any opponent, but said they wouldn't see the results they sought until they established more consistency on the court.
"We've just got to keep working hard," Edmondson said. "It's a matter of wanting to do it. Our guys are capable, but we've got to see more quality effort if we hope to win."
Elliot chose not to focus on his team's near collapse in the fourth quarter, instead expressing relief they were finally able to obtain a victory after seven tough defeats to open the year.
"The guys clearly felt pressure late in the game and we didn't handle it that well," Elliot said. "But we haven't been in that situation before. We have many, many, many things we need to do better, but as we go along, and start winning more games, we'll figure out how to handle these situations better."
At South Putnam
Clay City (38)
Newton 2 0-0 6, Denker 3 0-0 8, Jenkins 1 0-0 2, Higgins 6 2-4 15, Tiefel 1 0-0 2, Bridgewater 1 0-4 2, Moore 1 1-1 3
South Putnam (41)
Welty 3 4-5 10, Chestnut 6 0-0 12, Varvel 1 0-2 2, Freeman 0 0-1 0, Dean 3 1-2 7, Masters 4 2-4 10
3-point field goals-- CC 5-23 (Newton 2-4, Denker 2-10, Jenkins 0-2, Higgins 1-2, Evans 0-2, Tiefel 0-1, Bridgewater 0-1), SP 0-4 (Welty 0-3, Chestnut 0-1). Total Rebounds -- CC 22 (Higgins 5, Moore 4) SP 34 (Chestnut 8, Masters and Dean 6). Team Fouls-- CC 15, SP 11. Turnovers -- CC 11, SP 19.