Times Sports Editor
The Clay City Eels have had an up-and-down basketball season, but head into sectional play on Tuesday night on a high note following a victory over Riverton Parke.
As postseason play begins at White River Valley, Eels face Eminence looking to add to what is currently a 10-game winning streak against their Eel counterparts. Clay City hasn't lost to Eminence since a 64-60 defeat on Dec. 5, 2000.
Eminence brings an 11-9 mark into the sectional while Clay City has struggled to a 6-15 mark, but owns a 61-60 victory against Eminence on Dec. 11.
For Clay City coach Vance Edmondson, the most positive sign in regards to potential sectional success is how Clay City performed in the final three quarters of Thursday's final regular season game, a 54-42 win over the Panthers.
"We did a lot of good things in that second half. We hit free throws down the stretch, played a lot better defense and played much better team basketball," Edmondson said. "We're getting ready for Eminence now and hopefully we continue this type of play."
Defense was the calling card against Riverton Parke as Clay City rallied from a 23-10 deficit early in the second quarter while holding the Panthers to 33 percent (nine-of-27) shooting over the final three quarters.
Offensively, Clay City got a big boost in the paint as senior Tyler Bridgewater scored 12 points and added four rebounds. The Eels' 6'3 junior, Brylan Jones, was a presence in the post with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Ben Denker (12 points) and Jake Tiefel (nine points) hit seven-of-eight free throws in a team effort.
Jones did not play in the first meeting between the schools, but Josh Decker provided 20 points along with Bridgewater.
Eminence's strength is its balance as five players average eight points per game or more. Junior Dawson Gore is the leader at 14.3 ppg. and leads the team with 30 3-pointers made. A close second is Grant Shupe, who averages 10.1 ppg. and dishes out more than five assists per game.
"It's a tough place to play," Edmondson said of Eminence. "Coach Shupe does a good job with them and they've got a couple of really good guards. The coach's son (Grant Shupe) really likes to penetrate the ball and get to the line. They've also got what I'd consider the best shooter in the sectional in the (Dawson) Gore kid. I'll tell ya, we did a pretty good job on him the first time, but he hit two or three, 3-pointers late with a hand in his face. We just have to know where he is at and not let him get off to a good start."
Sophomore Nick Szalay has come on over the second half of the season, averaging more than 12 ppg. and six rebounds over the final eight games of the regular season.
Chris Wagner (9.3 ppg.) and Cord Watkins (7.8 ppg.) are also in the scoring mix.
In the earlier season meeting between the clubs, Gore led the way with 16 points followed by 15 from Shupe and 11 from Blake Garland. Both Wagner and Szalay had six points.
The WRV Sectional begins on Tuesday night as the host Wolverines take on North Central, the defending champions, at 6 p.m. Clay City and Eminence tip-off against each other in the following game. On Friday night, Union will take on the winner of the first game followed by Shakamak facing the second game winner.
The Wolverines are 11-10 overall, but own a 6-0 mark against other teams in the sectional. The Lakers have compiled a 9-12 season mark and are 5-2 against the field. Both Clay City and Eminence are .500 teams in the sectional with Union (Dugger) and North Central just 2-17 this season.
Edmondson was quick to mention that Clay City has a difficult road if the Eels are going to win a sectional crown.
"If we're going to win, we're going to take the toughest route," Edmondson said of the Eels' sectional path. "We're going to play Eminence in that first game and if we're fortunate enough to win that one, then we play Shakamak and most likely White River Valley. So we're going to have to beat, what I would consider the three favorites. We're capable of doing it, we just have to play complete games, take care of the ball and play team basketball. We're looking forward to it and we're anxious to get started.
"It'll be a tough game for us, but we're looking forward to the challenge," Edmondson added.