Times Sports Editor
CLAY CITY -- If you're a Class A girls' basketball team, opening the season against a perennially tough 4A squad like Bloomington North might sound particularly appetizing. However, if you're the Clay City Eels, facing off against the Cougars is a valuable measuring stick.
The Eels opening the 2009 season with a 45-point defeat to North, but ended up finishing the season with a one-point loss in the regional and the school's first sectional title.
On Tuesday night, Clay City showed off its mettle against what should be another tough North team. The Cougars were able to pull away late to a 37-23 win, but the Eels again learned a lot about their character early on.
"That's one thing I like about playing Bloomington North the first game of the season, if you can compete at some level with a team like that with that length and they are strong," Clay City coach Chris Ames said. "If you can play against that, it's only going to show you as team what weaknesses and what you have to work on. Hopefully that gets you ready for conference games down the road."
Clay City went toe-to-toe with a much bigger Cougars team that had a lot of length that helped North pressure the ball relentlessly. However, the Eels' defense was stout as well, holding the Cougars to just six-of-21 (29 percent) shooting in the first half. The Eels forced eight turnovers in the first quarter and led 10-7 at the first stop.
However, North's size allowed them a wealth of second chance opportunities as they outrebounded Clay City 19-6 in the first half.
Carmela Roeschlein had four points in the first quarter and Brielle Drelick added five as North rallied in the second period.
North held Clay City to just three shots from the field and six turnovers in the second quarter as the Cougars rallied to a 18-14 lead at halftime. Despite being smaller at nearly every position on the floor, the Eels scrapped against North and wouldn't allow them to break the game open.
"We battled and that has kind of been our calling card here in the pre-season," Ames said. "After last year's disappointment, there's about three things we have to do: we have to communicate as a team, we have to rebound and play defense. All that includes communicating and battling like they did tonight. I cannot fault our effort, we had some lapses that you wish didn't happen, but that's the game of basketball."
North junior guard, Erin Kinzer came through in the clutch, getting free to hit back-to-back 3-pointers that broke open a tight game and gave the Cougars a 27-19 lead.
"We had a little miscommunication there and I'll take the blame for that," Ames said of leaving Kinzer open. "We were trying to keep the ball out of the (Shaw-Nee) Winningham girl's. (Bloomington North) did an excellent job at halftime of trying to spread us out and try and get (Winningham) one-on-one so they could kick it and they made shots."
The Eels held Winningham, who averaged 10.3 ppg. and 7.3 rpg. last season, to just four points and three shots from the field. However, Kinzer's big shots from the perimeter, combined with sticky defense by North, wouldn't allow a comeback by the Eels.
The Cougars held Clay City scoreless from the 4:25 mark of the third period until just 4:31 remained in the fourth period. At that point, North had built a 33-19 lead before a jumper by Drelick got the Eels within 33-21.
The Eels simply ran out of time to make a comeback, but Ames felt that his team can use the contest as a launching pad.
"I told the girls, it's how you approach (this game) afterwards. No one is happy, you are pleased you played hard and battled, not like we did last year. We really let things bother us and it snowballed. How are you going to approach conference opponents, are you going to battle like tonight?
The JV team dropped a 38-6 decision to the Cougars.
The Eels (0-1 overall) travel to face Eminence on Friday night with a 6 p.m. junior varsity tip-off.
Clay City (23)
Roeschlein 2-9 2-2 7, Drelick 4-12 1-2 9, Reed 0-2 0-0 0, A.Miller 2-3 0-0 5, Booe 0-0 0-0 0, Dayhuff 0-0 0-0 0, Riggs 1-2 0-0 2, Wolfe 0-0 0-0 0, Gossage 0-0 0-0 0, Decker 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 9-28 3-4 23.
Bloomington North (37)
Kinzer 3-11 0-0 8, Warfield 4-10 3-3 11, Lukemeyer 3-6 2-4 8, Demoss 0-1 2-2 2, Winningham 1-3 2-4 4, Luce 1-5 0-1 2, Shaw 0-1 0-0 0, Nelson 0-1 0-0 0, Cassidy 1-1 0-0 2, Hays 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 13-36 9-14 37.
3-point fieldgoals -- CC 2-5 (Roeschlein 1-3, A.Miller 1-1, Drelick 0-1), BN 2-5 (Kinzer 2-3, Warfield 0-1, Luce 0-1). Total Rebounds -- CC 18 (Drelick 5, A.Miller 3), BN 30 (Winningham 7, Lukemeyer 6). Total Fouls -- CC 13, BN 13. Turnovers -- CC 21, BN 18.