Times Sports Editor
ELNORA -- Playing with a short bench due to holiday vacations, the Clay City Eels still nearly wrapped up the Graber Post Classic with a victory, but came out on the losing side 38-37 as South Knox' Caleb Beaman sank a driving lay-in with 1.6 seconds left for the victory.
The Eels were missing a couple of bench players and senior starter Tyler Bridgewater is still getting his legs back after missing more than two weeks due to illness. The combination was evident down the stretch as Clay City lost a seven-point lead early in the fourth quarter to the Spartans.
After falling to Washington Catholic in the Eels' second game in the tournament, Eels' coach Vance Edmondson wasn't using fatigue as an excuse, but felt that Clay City would benefit later in the season from the hectic slate.
"That's going to benefit us down the road," Edmondson said of playing three games in three days. "It's not quite a sectional situation where there is a day between the first two games, but we kind of saw where we are at. I'm proud of us the way we came back, fought and played hard today. We kind of had a let down yesterday (against Washington Catholic). For us to rebound today, I'm proud of them."
The Eels got a big 3-pointer from Ben Denker to open the final period to put Clay City ahead 28-21, but South Knox wouldn't pack it in.
After being held scoreless over the first three quarters, Beaman was pivotal in the final stanza for the Spartans.
His two free throws after a score by Jarek Page and an Eels' turnover got South Knox back to within 28-25 before Bridgewater scored for Clay City. Bridgewater had a chance to increase the Eels' advantage with 3:51 left in the contest, but missed both, a sign of things to come for the Eels.
Jake Tiefel scored off a steal to push the gap back to 32-25, but South Knox' Trent Whitton answered with a jumper and one of Clay City's eight, fourth quarter turnovers led to a score by Beaman. The Eels turned the ball over on the next possession and Chase Marchino followed with a free throw to get South Knox within 32-30. The Spartans forced another turnover the next time down the court and Beaman tied the score at 32-32 off an offensive rebound.
Bridgewater gave Clay City a lead with 1:16 left on two free throws and Beaman traded 3-pointers with Denker, who had a game-high 12 points.
"For (Ben Denker) to answer back after (South Knox) hit one, that was huge. I thought maybe that might be a back breaker, but you have to give (the Spartans) credit, they played hard the entire game and they just got some bounces at the end and we just have to make free throws," Edmondson said.
With a 37-35 lead with 43 seconds left, Clay City's Justin Rodgers missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity at the line and the Spartans' Garrett Wilson sank one from the line to make it a 37-36 game with just 12.6 seconds to go.
South Knox fouled Bridgewater with 11 seconds remaining, but the first free throw rimmed out and Beaman drove into traffic to lay home the go-ahead score.
Beaman scored all 11 of his points in the final quarter for South Knox.
The Eels had one final shot, but a long 3-pointer by Denker drew iron.
Both Rodgers and Tiefel had seven points for Clay City with Bridgewater scoring six in limited minutes. Brylan Jones added two for the Eels, who fall to 2-6 overall before playing in the Greene County Tourney beginning on Jan. 4.
Graber Post Classic
Clay City (37)
Denker 4-8 1-2 12, Decker 1-4 0-2 3, Rodgers 3-5 0-3 7, Tiefel 2-5 3-4 7, Bridgewater 1-2 0-0 2, Allen 0-0 0-0 0, Jones 1-2 0-0 2. Totals: 13-30 6-16 37.
S. Knox (38)
Marchino 1-3 3-4 5, Meyer 1-5 0-0 2, Wilson 0-1 1-2 1, Beaman 4-12 2-2 11, Whitton 4-14 0-0 8, Smith 0-1 0-0 0, Walters 0-1 0-0 0, Lamb 2-3 1-3 7, Page 2-4 0-0 4. Totals: 14-44 7-11 38.
3-point fieldgoals -- CC 5-10 (Denker 3-5, Decker 1-1, Rodgers 1-3, Tiefel 0-1), SK 3-18 (Meyer 0-4, Beaman 1-6, Lamb 2-2, Whitton 0-4, Walters 0-1, Marchino 0-1). Total Rebounds -- CC 22 (Bridgewater 6, Rodgers 4), SK 29 (Whitton 7, Wilson 7). Total Fouls -- CC 11, SK 13. Turnovers -- CC 16, SK 11.