By CAREY FOX
Times Sports Editor
CLAY CITY -- Slightly more than 11 months ago, the Clay City boys' basketball team claimed a sectional championship for the first time since 1976.
The Eels were able to hit enough free throws down the stretch to claim a 47-37 victory in a rugged tilt against the Shakamak Lakers.
If you're a Clay City basketball fan, the irony can't be lost on you as the boys' team also downed the Lakers in the championship game on the way to facing Jac-Cen-Del in the Regional. The girls' meanwhile could also face Jac-Cen-Del depending on the results of this evening's title game between Oldenburg Academy and the host Jac-Cen-Del Eagles.
The Clay City Eels actually trailed at the 5:29 mark of the fourth quarter after the Lakers' Jade Gambill knocked home the team's lone 3-pointer of the game.
Staring down a sudden 35-34 deficit, the Eels dug in and held the Lakers to just two points the rest of the way.
The Eels re-took the lead with two free throws from Carmela Roeschlein at the 4:51 mark. Foul shooting played a big role in the game as coach Chris Ames commented on following the game.
"I told the radio guys before the game that the other night (against North Central), we missed enough foul shots for me to pull out my hair," Ames joked.
In the first half it looked like it might be more of the same as Clay City hit just four-of-nine from the line. But it was the pivotal fourth quarter when the Eels got into a bonus situation late that they were able to extend a tentative lead.
Holding a 37-35 lead, the defense came up big as Roeschlein picked off a pass and hit a free throw and Brielle Drelick grabbed another errant Lakers' pass and fed the ball to Roeschlein for a driving hoop.
With the crowd beginning to sense the history in the making, the Lakers' Casey Fougerousse missed a long 3-pointer with 1:18 left. Roeschlein was fouled following the rebound and hit two more free throws to essentially put the game out of reach at 47-38.
"We hit enough (free throws) down the stretch," Ames said. "I really thought we covered up on (Shakamak's) shooters enough to frustrate them. They really took it to us with their defense."
A torrid first quarter for both teams left the score at 12-all as both teams combined to shoot 11-of-16 from the field. From there however, the game's physicality and some missed lay-ups sank each teams' fieldgoal percentages.
The Eels edged out to a 23-22 lead at halftime as Roeschlein hit a pair of 3-pointers, Abby Reed hit a pair of first quarter fieldgoals and Drelick contributed five points.
In the third quarter, the Eels edged out to a narrow lead as Drelick used her aggressive drives to the basket to get to the line six times while scoring eight of her 13 points in the period. A free throw with 1:13 in the period gave the Eels a 33-29 lead heading into the final stanza.
The Lakers began to get into foul trouble in the fourth quarter as both Kristi Pearson and Gambill each fouled out.
The lead grew to 34-29 for the Eels as Roeschlein hit one of her nine free throws to open the quarter. The Lakers clawed their way back with a score by Crane and a free throw by Gambill to get within 34-32 before Gambill put them ahead for the final time at 35-34.
From there, the Eels made their move into school history, finishing the game on a 13-2 run.
"I'm really out of words, people don't realize the amount of time and effort that these girls have put in," Ames said. "We've done a lot of things together. They are like my family. I'm happy for them, I'm happy for Clay City and for the school to have some good news. It feels good to be a champion."
Also in attendance was last year's boys' basketball coach Grant McVay, who took in the moment less than a year after his team celebrated a title.
"There is a lot of people involved in this besides the coaching staff. This goes back years, I'm so excited. I told (Keith Jones) on the radio that our goal was to make history in Sectional 57," Ames said. "There's a lot of people involved in this, the parents, coach (Michael) Owens, coach (Grant) McVeigh, they are like my extended brothers. We talked about it, I missed out on (the sectional title) on the boys' side last year, but I told them that we had big fish to fry this season and I'm just so happy four our seniors (Sloan Miller and McCullough)."
The Southwestern (Shelbyville) Regional will feature the Eels in the 10 a.m. game on Saturday.
Class A Clay City Sectional
Clay City (47)
Roeschlein 3-9 9-12 17, Drelick 3-12 6-13 13, Reed 2-4 1-2 5, A.Miller 1-3 2-2 4, McCullough 1-3 4-6 6, S.Miller 0-1 0-0 0, Booe 1-1 0-0 2, Dayhuff 0-0 0-0 0, Milner 0-0 0-0 0, Gossage 0-0 0-0 0, Decker 0-0 0-0 0, Riggs 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 11-33 22-36 47.
Fougerousse 5-10 1-1 11, Crane 4-8 1-5 9, Gambill 3-8 1-4 8, Martin 0-4 0-0 0, Pearson 3-5 1-2 7, Gilbert 0-3 0-0 0, Holdaway 0-0 2-2 2. Totals: 15-38 6-14 37.
3-point fieldgoals -- CC 3-10 (Roeschlein 2-6, Drelick 1-1, A.Miller 0-2, McCullough 0-1), SH 1-9 (Fougerousse 0-3, Gambill 1-1, Crane 0-1, Gilbert 0-1, Martin 0-3). Total Rebounds -- CC 24 (McCullough 6, Drelick 6), SH 29 (Crane 10). Total Fouls -- CC 11, SH 20. Fouled out -- SH (Gambill, Pearson). Turnovers -- CC 16, SH 26.