Times Sports Editor
Friday's annual county battle between Northview and Clay City's boys' basketball teams was far from pretty, but it was the Knights that came out on top, grinding out a 53-36 victory against the Eels.
The win was the fourth in a row for the Knights while Clay City lost its third straight.
"It's good to get a win and get out of Dodge, it's a tough night, Senior Night and the Clay City game," Northview coach Ernie Maesch said. "We came out tight and were a step behind defensively and that spelled close game. I thought for the majority of the night Clay City was outplaying us."
The Knights honored a six-man senior class along with both Lauren Webster and Chelsey Sampson from the girls' team before the varsity contest. Northview seniors, Trent Lancaster, Dalton Rohr, Caleb Mershon, Hunter Robertson, Jacob Musgrave and Jordan VanHorn, were recognized before a large home crowd.
From the opening top however, it was the Eels that came out loose and grabbed a 7-0 lead as Bryan Jones scored five of his seven points in the first period. Meanwhile, the Knights turned the ball over three times and hit just two-of-10 shots from the field.
Clay City showed several different zone defensive looks throughout the game and the Knights were frigid from behind the 3-point line, missing all 12 of its shots from beyond the arc before halftime.
Somehow however, Northview was able to bounce back behind eight second quarter points from Lancaster and four from Dillon Reynolds to hold a 22-19 lead at the break.
"We were trying to dissect things to death, but the bottom line is you have to hit some shots," Maesch said. "When you're 0-11 at halftime from 3-point range and missing inside shots, but still have the lead, we started hitting some shots and that makes everything easier.
Despite shooting just 30-percent (7-of-23) before halftime, Northview still held a narrow lead heading into the second half.
After break, Northview went on the attack as Reynolds scored off a steal on a fastbreak. The Eels got within 24-22 on a score by Jones and a free throw by Denker, but Mershon broke free to nail a 3-pointer to break an 0-12 streak from behind the arc. Denker answered with a jumper, but Mershon added another trey to push the lead to 30-24.
Clay City's Tyler Bridgewater followed with a 3-pointer, but the Knights had begun to heat up.
"We did a good job, got out on their shooters and got a hand out on them," Clay City coach Vance Edmondson said. "In the second half, we didn't do a good job. Mershon got hot, we lost track of him a couple of times and he hit back-to-back 3-pointers and that kind of deflated us."
Damon Hyatt added a free throw, Mershon scored off an acrobatic drive to the bucket and his offensive rebound and putback was part of a 7-2 run to give the Knights a 35-29 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
In the final period, it became apparent that the Knights' size was beginning to wear on the Eels as the 6'5, 250-pound, Musgrave and 6'5, 280-pound VanHorn, both football players, began to exert their will in the paint.
Mershon opened the period with a drive, part of a 13-point night for the senior, and Lancaster answered a 3-pointer by Clay City's Ben Denker with a drive. The Knights' senior started a 7-0 run for the Knights.
A free throw from Mershon preceded a score by Robertson, who was fouled. He would miss the free throw, but Musgrave snagged the offensive rebound and he would score. He followed with a second basket and the Knights were suddenly up 44-32.
"When you don't play well offensively, you don't have that pizzazz. Great teams can still go down there and grind it out," Maesch said. "I thought we did tonight, Hunter Robertson is certainly one of those guys that will continue to keep playing defense and hustle every time. Once you make a shot, look how much better your defense plays."
The Knights' defense was rock solid in the fourth quarter, holding the Eels to just two-of-14 shooting from the field.
Hyatt turned the corner on his defender to score and push the gap to 46-33 with 3:30 remaining, Musgrave added two more of his 10 points as the lead continued to grow down the stretch.
Clay City fought back with a 3-pointer from senior Justin Rodgers, but Musgrave knocked down a hook shot and the Knights ended the game on a 9-3 run. Northview also outrebounded Clay City 34-20 on the boards.
"Our guys continued to play hard. I just think physically, that's where (Northview) got us," Edmondson said. "They are just so much stronger than us. We played as hard as we could and as aggressive as we could, but we still couldn't match their size. I think that's what hurt us tonight."
Afterwards, Maesch talked about the importance of his senior class.
"This is a really good group (of seniors). It's a bigger bunch than we've had the last few years and you pretty much have a guy that plays every position," Maesch said. "They had some success when they were younger and it's good to see them have some success this year. Hopefully we can continue that momentum to the sectional.
"We're not a team that is every going to blow anybody out, we're not that kind of team," Maesch added. "We're a grind it out and win type of team. Hopefully we can get ourselves a few more before the sectional."
In the JV game, the Knights pulled away in the second half, outscoring Clay City 24-8 on the way to a 45-21 victory.
A supremely balanced scoring effort led Northview as Craig Peters led the way with nine points and Ethan Whitson added five. Dallas King, Braden Parr, Daniel Kimball, Travis Hakman, Travis Campbell and Tyler Rector each had four points.
For Clay City, Kole Smith had nine points to lead the team as Nathan Miller and Josh Miller each had four points.
The Knights are back in action on Tuesday night with a make-up road game at Plainfield beginning at 6 p.m. Clay City wraps up the regular season on Thursday at home against Riverton Parke.
Reynolds 2-6 2-2 6, Lancaster 5-12 4-6 14, Mershon 5-13 1-2 13, Robertson 2-3 2-4 6, Musgrave 5-7 0-2 10, Hyatt 1-2 1-2 3, Rohr 0-1 0-0 0, Ninesling 0-0 0-0 0, VanHorn 0-1 1-2 1. Totals: 20-41 11-20 53.
Clay City (36)
Denker 3-9 2-4 9, Decker 0-2 0-0 0, Tiefel 2-5 1-2 6, Bridgewater 4-12 2-4 11, Jones 3-4 1-1 7, Dyer 0-0 0-0 0, Rodgers 1-6 0-0 3, Allen 0-0 0-2 0, Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Rhodes 0-0 0-0 0, Harbour 0-2 0-0 0. Totals: 13-40 6-13 36.
3-point fieldgoals -- Nv 2-16 (Mershon 2-6, Lancaster 0-5, Reynolds 0-3, Hyatt 0-1, Rohr 0-1), CC 3-14 (Denker 1-4, Rodgers 1-3, Bridgewater 1-3, Decker 0-2, Harbour 0-1, Jones 0-1). Total Rebounds -- Nv 36 (Musgrave 7, Mershon 6), CC 26 (Bridgewater 4). Total Fouls -- Nv 10, CC 17. Turnovers -- Nv 5, CC 10.