Times Sports Editor
ELNORA -- Coming home for the holidays is always nice, but when you can pick up a couple of big basketball wins while you are there, then it's extra special.
Clay City head basketball coach Vance Edmondson went to high school at North Daviess High School and his Eels were in action at the Graber Post Buildings Classic Tourney for a three-game stretch this week. Clay City secured its second win of the tourney by rallying past Forest Park for a 55-50 victory on Friday night that gave the Eels a fifth-place finish.
"It feels real good," Edmondson of picking up Friday's victory. "After coming down here and going 0-3, I thought we'd be lucky to come out of here with one win, let alone going 2-1. I'm very proud of the boys."
After falling to Class A No. 5 Barr-Reeve in a tight struggle, the Eels came back to win its final two games a year after going winless in three contests.
A physical Rangers squad went to its frontcourt duo of 6'5 Lynk Kordes and 6'4 Ben Braunecker in the first half for 10 points and eight rebounds, but Clay City's Ben Denker hit three 3-pointers, scoring 11 of his 16 points before break. Brylan Jones hit all three of his first quarter shots and the Eels held a 28-25 lead at halftime.
While Forest Park's front court size gave Clay City some problems in the early going, Edmondson said his team was prepared to make some second half changes to counter the Rangers' advantage.
"We talked before the game about (Forest Park) doing a lot of high-low stuff," Edmondson said of the Rangers' post duo of Ben Braunecker and Lynk Kordes. "One of them is really big and solid and the other is big and athletic. That was a tough match-up for us. That kept them in the game in the first half. We made some adjustments at halftime and made some shots and free throws at the end and hung on."
Forest Park was able to tie the game early in the second half as senior 6'0 guard Jake Meyer began to heat up, hitting the tying jumper after a 3-pointer from Noah Klem. Clay Clay City strung together a transition bucket by senior Jake Tiefel that resulted in a three-point play and Blake Cesinger scored off a steal and added a free throw to complete another three-point play. The result was a brief 38-33 lead by Clay City.
Denker answered back with his fourth 3-pointer of the game to close the gap to 43-41 and a Forest Park turnover led to Jones scoring off a feed from Tiefel to send the game into the final stanza tied at 43-all.
There were not shortages of big shots in the final eight minutes of action as both teams struggled for that important second tourney win.
Forest Park's Kordes scored off an offensive rebound to open the period and Meyer, who had a game-high 20 points, drilled his third trifecta to put the Rangers ahead 48-43.
The resilient Eels weren't going to go away however as Cesinger scored off a steal and Tiefel completed a three-point play to knot the score at 48-all with 5:00 remaining.
The Rangers fired right back with a free throw from Braunecker as time began to be a factor.
The biggest shot of the night would come from the 6'4 Jones, who got a pass and was able to drill the go-ahead 3-pointer with defenders flying at him on the sideline.
Even Jones wasn't sure he was going to be able to knock down the shot.
"The athletic kid comes running at him and Brylan (Jones) told me after the game that he didn't know if he was going to get that one off," Edmondson said in regards to the go-ahead 3-pointer by his senior. "For a big kid he can step out and shoot it. It was a big basket for us, it got us back in the game."
With a 51-49 lead, Meyer got to the line and hit one-of-two free throws with 1:18 left, but Clay City was able to work the clock and get to the line with 32 seconds remaining. Cesinger, who had nine points, hit both shots, Meyer missed at the other end and Jones hauled down a big rebound. Denker finished off a 16-point game with two clinching free throws.
As the Eels improved to 7-1 this season overall, Edmondson admitted it was great to earn some wins against some tough opponents.
"If you can win two games here you've done something," Edmondson said. "I feel pretty good about where we're at right now. We just have to continue to work hard and get ready for next week."
The Eels jump into the Greene County Invite at White River Valley High School on Wednesday with a 6 p.m. meeting with Shakamak.
Graber Post Classic
At North Daviess High School
Clay City (55)
Denker 6-11 2-2 16, Cesinger 3-13 3-3 9, Tiefel 4-5 2-2 10, Jones 6-9 0-2 13, Allen 2-2 0-0 5, Rhodes 0 0-0 0, Harbour 0-0 2-2 2. Totals: 21-40 9-11 55.
Forest Park (50)
Weyer 1-4 0-0 3, Klem 2-10 0-0 6, Meyer 8-17 1-3 20, B.Braunecker 2-7 1-2 5, Kordes 5-8 0-1 10, Messmer 2-4 2-2 6, A.Braunecker 0-0 0-0 0, Schlacter 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 20-51 2-7 50.
3-point fieldgoals -- CC 6-16 (Denker 4-7, Cesinger 0-5, Jones 1-3, Allen 1-1), FP 6-22 (Weyer 1-4, Klem 2-8, Meyer 3-9, Messmer 0-1). Total Rebounds -- CC 25 (Cesinger 10, Jones 4), FP 29 (B.Braunecker 8, Kordes 7). Team Rebounds -- CC 3, FP 5. Total Fouls -- CC 10, FP 11. Turnovers -- CC 9, FP 7.
Next game: Clay City (7-1 overall) opens the Greene County Invite on Wednesday against Shakamak at 6 p.m. The tourney takes place at White River Valley High School.