Times Sports Editor
SWITZ CITY -- The Clay City Eels got a measure of revenge in the opening game of the Green County Tourney, scoring a 55-46 victory over Union (Dugger), a team that beat the Eels 51-47 on Dec. 3.
Clay City was much better defensively in the rematch than in the first game against the Bulldogs, at least in the first half. A familiar Bulldog foe nearly led Union right back into the thick of a game that the Eels led by 22 points in the third quarter.
The Eels held Union to just four-of-14 shooting in the first half and to just 12 points while building a 28-12 lead. Ben Denker opened things up with three, 3-pointers and 11 of his team-high 23 points before halftime. Meanwhile, Brylan Jones came off the bench to provide a spark with three rebounds and a 3-pointer to close the half on a positive note for the Eels.
"I challenge Ben (Denker) a lot this past four or five days," Clay City coach Vance Edmondson said of his junior guard. "He responded well. For us to be successful this year, he's got to be the guy that can be a zone buster for us. He's got to hit two, three or four shots to spread them out so we can get it inside to (Tyler) Bridgewater and do some other things."
In the first game between the two, Clay City couldn't stop 5'11 junior guard Tyler Talpas, who scored 21 points. Talpas was able to score nine points before halftime, but the Bulldogs couldn't find anyone else to score.
Clay City came out on a mission to extend its advantage in the second half and Denker provided the opening salvo with a 3-pointer and Jake Tiefel added a jumper for a 33-12 lead. The advantage grew to 37-15 on a jumper by senior Josh Decker.
With a seemingly comfortable lead in hand, the Eels' nemesis began to take the game over.
Talpas nailed a 3-pointer and followed an Eels' turnover with two free throws. Tiefel scored off a backdoor pass for the Eels, but Ethan Fettig scored on back-to-back buckets for the Bulldogs, Talpas scored on a drive and followed a pull-up jumper by Denker with another bucket that got the Bulldogs within 41-28.
The run continued into the fourth quarter as Clay City was outrebounded six-to-one in the third quarter and when Gage Camden opened the final period with a 3-pointer and Fettig scored off an offensive rebound, the lead was down to 41-33. The Bulldogs had ripped off an 18-4 run and 6:16 remained in the game.
"I think he ended up with 20 in the second half. It's hard to hold a kid that good and the way he plays, without fouling him," Edmondson said. "We did equal parts of both. We put him at the line quite a bit and he's shifty. Those guys are hard to defend. (In the) first half I was very proud of how we played."
Instead of letting the game get away from them, the Eels responded down the stretch as Denker hit two free throws and Tyler Bridgewater sank a pair of his own after a Bulldogs' turnover. Denker added a jumper to complete a 6-0 run for the Eels, who now led 47-33.
Talpas hit another 3-pointer to get Union within 48-37, but that was as close as the Bulldogs would get until back-to-back closing buckets by Talpas to end the game.
The Eels got 10 from Bridgewater, who also had a team-high seven rebounds and Jones added six points with Justin Rodgers providing four points and five rebounds.
The Eels are back in action against Class 2A fifth-ranked Eastern Greene, a lopsided winner over North Central. The Eels will play the Thunderbirds at 6 p.m. on Friday night.
Greene County Tourney
At White River Valley
Clay City (55)
Denker 8-12 3-6 23, Decker 1-5 0-0 2, Tiefel 4-8 2-2 10, Bridgewater 2-7 6-7 10, Allen 0-0 0-2 0, Rodgers 1-7 2-2 4, Jones 2-3 1-2 6. Totals: 18-42 12-19 55.
Fettig 4-8 2-4 10, Birdsong 0-5 0-0 0, Camden 1-5 0-1 3, Talpas 11-19 4-4 29, Gambill 0-1 1-2 1, Shreve 0-1 0-0 0, Langley 1-3 0-0 3. Totals: 17-42 7-11 46.
3-point fieldgoals -- CC 5-12 (Denker 4-7, Jones 1-1, Decker 0-2, Rodgers 0-2), Un 5-13 (Talpas 3-4, Langley 1-2, Camden 1-3, Birdsong 0-3, Fettig 0-1). Total Rebounds -- CC 25 (Bridgewater 7, Rodgers 5), Un 28 (Fettig 11, Talpas 4). Total Fouls -- CC 13, Un 18. Fouled out -- Un (Gambill). Turnovers -- CC 6, Un 10.