Times Sports Editor
DUGGER -- The Clay City Eels fell prey to a winless (0-4) Union team on Friday night, allowing the Bulldogs to hang around long enough to plunge the dagger into the Eels for just the second time in the last eight contests between the two programs. The 51-47 win by Union was just the third over the last 27 games spanning two seasons for the Bulldogs.
"We knew that if we didn't do the things we've talked about and execute our game plan and let (Union) hang around, on their home court they are going to be hard to beat," Clay City coach Vance Edmondson said. "We let them hang around and they stepped up and hit free throws at the end."
The game was close throughout as Clay City held a narrow lead at halftime only because officials whistled a shooting foul on a halfcourt shot by Justin Rodgers at the buzzer. The Eels' senior hit all three shots to put his team ahead 21-20.
The game was a see-saw affair over the final two periods as Clay City opened a 36-33 lead with less than two minutes left in the third quarter after Josh Decker nailed a 3-pointer and Ben Denker capitalized on a steal and lay-in.
Union's Tyler Talpas was a focal point for Clay City's defense the entire first half as Jake Tiefel got the assignment and held the 5'11 junior to just two points in the opening quarter before he added five more points in the second quarter.
Talpas was a particular thorn in the Eels' side during the third period as he broke free early to log nine of his game-high 21 points in the quarter. Zach Birdsong added a 3-pointer in the quarter to keep Union within 36-35 heading into the final quarter.
While the Eels looked as if they wanted to press the pace of the game, Union was perfectly happy working deliberately and getting high percentage shots. The Bulldogs hit 15-of-34 (44 percent of their shots from the field and five-of-eight 3-pointers). Meanwhile, the Eels were just 14-of-49 (28 percent) overall.
"If we're going to go into a halfcourt set, we have to be selective and get it to the right guys in the right spots for the right shots. I thought we got away from that tonight," Edmondson said. "I thought we had made that adjustment at halftime, but we just couldn't seem to get it straightened out all night."
Union regained the lead to start the fourth quarter as Birdsong sank one of his three shots from long-range. After holding a brief 38-36 lead, Union allowed the Eels to go on a run that included a drive from Rodgers and a 3-pointer from Tiefel to press the Eels' lead to 42-38.
It was short lived however.
Union got another bomb from Birdsong to get within 44-43 and Ethan Fettig, a 6'4 sophomore, was fouled on an offensive rebound and went to the line for two shots. He missed the first shot, but Clay City was called for a lane violation and he got an extra shot, hitting one of two shots to tie the score.
Talpas added a free throw for a 45-44 Bulldogs' lead with 1:30 remaining and an Eels' turnover led to Seth Gambill adding two key free throws.
Talpas hit one-of-two from the charity stripe with just 24 seconds left as Union led 48-44, but Tyler Bridgwater nailed a big 3-pointer for Clay City to keep them alive trailing 48-47 with 15 seconds left. However, Talpas added another free throw on the next possession and Union rebounded the miss and added two more free throws to close out the four-point win.
"I think we got a little tired there and I'll tell you what, the guy (Tyler Talpas) has got a motor on him," Edmondson said of the Bulldogs' junior guard. "We tried to make him give it up, but some other guys stepped up and hit some shots in key situations. We've just got to learn from this and get ready to play next Friday."
Clay City was led by Bridgewater's 17 points and six rebounds with Denker adding 11 and Rodgers contributing seven.
In the JV game, Clay City got a balanced scoring effort to earn a 48-17 victory as Stephen Phillips had 12, Joshua Arsenal had nine and both Bailey Smith and Colten Harbour had six each.
The Eels (1-1 overall, 0-1 SWIAC) face Bloomfield on the road next Friday.
Clay City (47)
Denker 4-12 0-0 11, Decker 1-6 0-0 3, Rodgers 1-6 5-6 7, Tiefel 1-7 1-2 4, Bridgewater 5-14 6-11 17, Grubbs 0-0 0-0 0, Allen 2-4 1-2 5. Totals: 14-49 13-21 47.
Fettig 2-4 4-6 8, Birdsong 4-8 0-0 11, Langley 0-1 0-0 0, Talpas 5-9 10-16 21, Gambill 2-7 2-2 6, Todd 1-1 0-1 2, Shreve 0-1 0-0 0, Camden 1-3 0-2 3. Totals: 15-34 16-27 51.
3-point fieldgoals -- CC 6-19 (Denker 3-9, Decker 1-4, Rodgers 0-2, Tiefel 1-3, Bridgewater 1-1). UN 5-8 (Birdsong 3-4, Camden 1-2, Talpas 1-1, Langley 0-1). Total Rebounds -- CC 33 (Bridgewater 6, Tiefel 6), UN 29 (Fettig 9, Gambill 6). Total Fouls -- CC 24, UN 14. Turnovers -- CC 14, UN 16.