Times Sports Editor
The Charles A. Tindley Lady Tigers' basketball team calls Indianapolis home, but outside of that, there is a bit of mystery involved regarding the Clay City Eels' regional basketball opponent.
Not much tape was available for the Eels' coaching staff to dissect because the Tigers play a pretty non-traditional schedule that stems from Tindley being an independent school that doesn't have a conference affiliation. Also, with this being just the school's fourth year of eligibility for the IHSAA postseason, Tindley has put together a regular season schedule that included a string of four tourney games against Illinois schools in November, several prep schools, Catholic schools and a handful of games against Indianapolis schools that are relatively new.
"We don't know a lot about them, their schedule is a little different from ours. We have no common opponents at all and really nobody that we've played, that they've played," Clay City coach Chris Ames said. "So it's a little something different that we're looking at."
Another interesting oddity is that Tindley's sectional, the Class A Indianapolis Crispus Attucks Sectional 59 is barely out of the wrapper. Of Tindley's three sectional wins on the way to the school's first title, Attucks has competed in just two sectionals after re-opening, Indianapolis International has been eligible since the 2004-05 season and Indianapolis Shortridge is in just its second year of existence.
In Clay City's favor, however, is that the Eels have had a full week to prepare after winning this year's sectional over Shakamak. Last season the Eels won the title on a Tuesday night and had just three days to get ready to face Jac-Cen-Del in the regional opener at Southwestern (Shelbyville).
The Eels open play against Tindley in the 10 a.m. game with the winner advancing to the 8 p.m. championship game against the winner of the other first round game between Edinburgh (12-9) and Jac-Cen-Del (17-5).
Clay City is preparing as if it will be playing in that championship game.
"Last year, we didn't have a lot of time so we really prepared for one opponent," Ames said. "This year we're trying to prepare for winning a game and playing at night. If you're planning on that, then you're planning on other teams as well. Our practice time has been more towards, 'you have to win the first game before you can win the second game.'"
Tindley has compiled a 14-5 mark this season and is coached by Kevin Merriweather, whose daughter Kabrina, is the team's leading scorer.
Merriweather is a 5'10 senior that averages 19.9 ppg. and has hit 40-of-117 3-pointers this season. She also leads the team at 11.3 rebounds per game more than three assists per contest.
If her last name is familiar, it may be because her sister was an Indiana All-Star from Cathedral and took her talents to play for the University of Cincinnati. Her grandfather, Willie Merriweather, was a member of Crispus Attucks' state title team in 1955 and was also an Indiana All-Star that season before playing at Purdue. Her father Kevin, played at Attucks and the University of Indianapolis.
Coach (Kevin) Merriweather has a daughter that's a really good player. I know she averages 20-or-more points, she can shoot the basketball and drive the basketball and she makes her teammates better," Ames said. "They are very athletic and that's about all I know right now."
Merriweather is easily the most dangerous player on Tindley's roster as she has put together some prolific games including 13 games with double-digit scoring and rebounding. In the opening sectional win over Crispus Attucks (34-23), Merriwether posted 19 points and 32 rebounds.
The Tigers are a very young team outside of Merriweather as the remainder of the roster is freshmen and sophomores outside of 5'5 junior guard, Breanna Fields, who averages 7.4 ppg and 5'8 junior forward JaQuay Collyear, who sees limited minutes.
The Tigers' third-leading scorer is 5'8 guard/forward Terrace Clark, who averages 7.0 ppg. and 4.4 rpg. Antianna Terrell is a 5'5 sophomore guard and she averages 5.6 ppg.
Tindley doesn't shoot the ball for a very high percentage as no player has hit more than 39 percent of their shots from the field and the squad isn't any better from the free throw line, hitting just 53 percent as a team (175-of-332).
The Eels certainly aren't overlooking Tindley and Clay City is game planning for a number of possibilities regarding the Tigers' defense and quickness.
"(Tindley) pushes the ball very well. The main thing is keeping them in front of you (defensively), if not, they are going to get a lot of transition baskets," Ames said. "I'm not sure what they want to do pressure-wise, whether it's a man-press or a zone-press, but we have to be aware of that too. We're going to mainly focus on keeping the Merriweather girl contained and keep the other girls in front of us. She's not their only player, they average (53.4 ppg.), so they get up and down the floor."
The Eels are paced by Carmela Roeschlein's 20.5 ppg. and the regional could be the site for a career milestone for the junior guard. She is just 13 points shy of 1,000 for her career. Brielle Drelick is next on the scoring list for Clay City as she tallies 12.1 ppg. Some teams have been successful in shutting one of the two Eels down, however, none have been able to corral both players.
What has been important for the Eels down the stretch is the development of other scoring options in the lineup along with a bench that has provided quality minutes as well.
Madison Booe has had some big nights for the Eels when the sophomore has been called on to score and her quickness gives Clay City depth in full court pressure defense. Abby Reed is cool and collected and plays her role to perfection as a defensive stalwart and occasional sniper from the outside. The junior's grit on the defensive end has also provided opposing teams a wealth of problems. Allie Miller is another dangerous shooter from the outside and while she doesn't shoot a lot, she gives teams something to think about when trying to sink into the paint to stop Roeschlein from driving to the basket.
Coming off the bench, Callie Dayhuff and Michaela Riggs are often the first ones to relieve the starters.
Riggs, at 5'9, gives the Eels a tough rebounder and also provided four important points against Eminence in the sectional semifinal. Dayhuff gives the Eels another guard that can handle the ball and provide some solid defensive minutes as well. Danielle Gossage and 5'10 freshman Alex Wolfe have also give Clay City important court time as well.
"The Eastern Greene Tournament gave us a chance to play a lot of players," Ames said. "We've had some injuries, Carmela (Roeschlein) has missed a couple of games, Allie Miller has missed some games and I think those types of things has helped our bench. You saw that on Friday and Saturday night, our bench came in and played really big."
Clay City is still feeling the sting of last year's one-point loss in the regional, but Ames believes his team is confident heading into this year's edition.
"Sometimes people might think it's taboo to talk about winning that first game, but we want a chance to play for that regional title and that's our goal," Ames said. "We won the sectional last year and I think if you don't set new goals I don't think you'll reach your potential."
Clay City faces Tindley at 10 a.m. followed by Edinburgh versus Jac-Cen-Del. The championship game is set for 8 p.m.