Times Sports Editor
SWITZ CITY -- The Clay City Eels may have came out of the Graber Post Catholic Tournament with an 0-3 mark, but apparently they took plenty away from the experience. In fact, the Eels have had quite a rugged schedule with their last five losses since Dec. 17 coming to teams with a combined 32-14 record. That includes unbeaten Forest Park and Eastern Greene and a 7-2 Vincennes Rivet squad.
On Saturday night, the Eels put all those lessons learned together and came away with an impressive 61-54 victory against Linton in the third-place game of the Greene County Tourney.
Clay City overcame a 10-point deficit in the third quarter by stringing together a 20-3 run into the fourth quarter. The run, sparked by the Eels' full court pressure, was aided by nine, second half turnovers by the Miners, who turned it over just once in the first half.
Eels' head coach Vance Edmondson commented afterwards that he wanted to give Linton a lot of different looks since his squad will see the Miners again on Feb. 15.
"I don't know if we wanted to wait that long (to use the full court press). We've got to play them again, I think we wanted to get a feel for where we were with (Linton)," Edmondson said. "I told the boys that we were gonna throw everything at (Linton), but the kitchen sink and actually I think we threw the sink at them too."
The first half was very crisply played for both squads with only three combined turnovers and the squads shot 48 percent (19-of-40). The Eels got seven points from Ben Denker before halftime and Jake Tiefel came up big with nine on a variety of jumpers and drives to the hoop.
With a 25-21 lead heading into the third quarter, the Miners came out hot and rode the touch of senior guard Caleb Stuppy.
He had seven points in a 12-6 run to open the half that pushed the Miners' lead to 37-27 and the Eels looked to be in trouble.
However, Tiefel dashed to the hoop for a score and the foul and the Eels' press forced a turnover that led to another bucket by Tiefel, who had 20 points in the win. Dess Fougerousse added a free throw for Linton, but Josh Decker scored on a lay-up, Ben Denker followed a turnover with a 3-pointer and the Eels were within 38-37 in the waning seconds of the quarter.
Linton's Blake Eaton missed two free throws and that opened up a chance for the Eels, who executed a beautiful play as Tyler Bridgewater made a quick pass to Denker in the corner for a 3-pointer, and a 40-38 lead, at the buzzer.
"He's a guy that's stepped up for us on both ends of the floor," Edmondson said of Tiefel. "He's taken over the majority of our ball handling and that kind of frees (Ben) Denker up to be more of a shooter and I think that's a more natural position for both of them. I'm pleased with everyone's performance tonight."
Perhaps the biggest possession of the game shortly afterwards when Stuppy was whistled for an intentional foul and Decker sank both free throws before Denker posted two more free throws on the ensuing possession. The four-point possession boosted the lead up to 53-44 with 3:16 remaining.
The Miners clawed back to within five points twice at 53-48 and 59-54 with 13.4 seconds remaining, but the Eels hit 10 straight free throws to stay out front.
Five turnovers in the final quarter didn't help the Miners as Clay City held them to seven-of-20 shooting (35 percent) from the field as well.
"I was proud of them, we were fortunate enough, they listened and did the right things and they covered their spots in that zone (defense). I think when you attack an offense on defense, they have the opportunity to go by you and make plays," Edmondson said. "I thought we did a nice job of giving, giving, giving and then, when they try and make a play, getting in the passing lanes and forcing turnovers."
Scoring balance was also key as Clay City got at least five points from five different players.
"That's what we need," Edmondson said of the scoring balance. "We knew going in that (Tyler) Bridgewater was going to be a key for us on offense and early on, our offense was centered on him," Edmondson said. "Now the other guys have done a great job of stepping up. Like tonight, when you can get 20, 10 and 17 from three guys that aren't your main scorers, we're going to be tough to beat."
The Eels (4-7 overall) host the Greene County Tourney champions, Eastern Greene (10-0) on Friday night.
Greene County Tourney
Clay City (61)
Denker 4-9 6-7 17, Decker 3-4 4-4 10, Rodgers 1-7 0-0 3, Tiefel 7-9 6-6 20, Bridgewater 3-8 0-4 6, Allen 1-2 3-4 5. Totals: 19-37 19-25 61.
Stuppy 4-8 0-0 9, Karazsia 4-8 1-1 9, Kaiser 3-9 0-1 7, Fougerousse 7-14 1-3 15, Eaton 5-9 2-4 12, Bradbury 0-1 0-0 0, Jerrells 0-0 0-0 0, Brown 0-0 2-2 2, Stomm 0-0 0-0 0, Woodward 0-1 0-0 0, French 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 23-50 4-7 54.
3-point fieldgoals -- CC 4-10 (Denker 3-6, Rodgers 1-3, Bridgewater 0-1), Ln 2-12 (Stuppy 1-5, Kaiser 1-4, Bradbury 0-1, Karazsia 0-1, Fougerousse 0-1). Total Rebounds -- CC 19 (Bridgewater 7), Ln 31 (Fougerousse 16, Eaton 6). Total Fouls -- CC 8, Ln 18. Turnovers -- CC 5, Ln 10.