Times Sports Editor
SWITZ CITY -- Sectional time is all about survival and on Friday night the Clay City Eels did that against the Union (Dugger) Bulldogs at White River Valley High School.
Clay City senior Tyler Allen knocked down two free throws with 15 seconds remaining and the Eels survived a 3-point attempt from Bulldog senior Tyler Talpas at the horn for a 40-38 victory. The win advances the Eels into tonight's championship game at 7:30 p.m.
The game stood in stark contrast to a 71-53 walkover win by the Eels back in December, but both teams brought their defensive 'A' game into the postseason opener.
Clay City coach Vance Edmondson agreed that his team won a tough battle against a Union team playing much better than its 4-17 overall record might indicate.
"You have to give our kids credit. Even though they didn't play their best tonight, they gutted out a win," Edmondson said. "At tourney time, survive and advance, get it done and move on. There is no tomorrow. We were fortunate enough to get out of here tonight with a win. We're going to put that behind us and move on."
The Eels would like nothing more than to get off the shooting snide at White River Valley High School as they've struggled from the field in all four games the team has played their this season going back to a three-game run in the Greene County Tourney.
Clay City shot a combined 29 percent (43-of-149) in those three games and had some of the same issues in the first half on Friday night.
The Eels missed a few early lay-ups and had two more blocked while hitting on 3-of-14 shots in the first period. Edmondson credited the Bulldogs' 2-3 zone for providing Clay City some problems.
"Hopefully we've gotten that out of our system," Edmondson said with regards to the Eels' shooting woes. "We had to be a little nervous coming out. You have to give Dugger credit, they came out and extended that zone (defense) and we didn't do a very good job of penetrating and getting looks. We settled early for jumpers and when we do that it kind of messes with our minds a little bit. We're going to try and get to the basket a little more (tonight)."
In the second quarter, Clay City was able to open a small gap before Union rallied back to climb within 19-18 at halftime as Jones missed the final 10 minutes of game action after he picked up his third foul on a technical after getting tangled with the Bulldogs' Ian Hamburg with two minutes left in the first period. Both players picked up a technical foul on the play.
Starting the second half, the Eels began to make their move as Jake Tiefel and Ben Denker each knocked home 3-pointers and Tiefel added a lay-in for a 29-22 advantage. The lead would grow to 33-25 to end the quarter as Tiefel scored off a long pass from Blake Cesinger.
The defensive effort by the Eels on high-scoring Tyler Talpas was pivotal as well as Clay City's Denker and Tiefel were assigned the job of limiting the senior guard. He had just eight points through three quarters.
"I think he had 16 tonight and that might be his low total for the season," Edmondson said of Talpas. "He's averaging 22 or 24 points (a game) coming in. If you hold a guy seven or eight points below his average you stand to win a few games. He's such a great player."
Clay City grew its lead to 34-25 to open the fourth quarter on a free throw by Colton Harbour, who had five important points while subbing in for Jones.
However, the Bulldogs made a run of their own as Talpas hit a pair of 3-pointers and a drive by Ethan Fettig got Union within 36-35 with 3:10 remaining. The teams would trade single free throws by Denker, Fettig and Cesinger as Clay City held fast to a 38-36 lead with under a minute left.
Talpas got into the lane and hit a runner in the lane to tie the game with 30 seconds left at 38-all.
The Eels brought the ball into the frontcourt and Allen got loose for a shot and was fouled with 15 seconds left. He calmly knocked down both to give Clay City a 40-38 lead.
"Huge free throws for Tyler (Allen) there at the end. That first one you could tell it was good on the release. Colton Harbour, I was really, really proud of him tonight," Edmondson said of the 6'2 junior. "He gave us some really quality minutes when (Brylan) Jones got in foul trouble. I was very pleased with everybody tonight."
With several fouls to give, Clay City ran some time off the clock by fouling Union. The Eels nearly had the game wrapped up when Jones intercepted a pass, but lost it out of bounds with 2.2 seconds remaining.
Union got the ball and one more chance as Talpas took a pass and launched a final shot from 25 feet that banged off the rim at the horn.
The Eels (14-8 overall) got 12 points from Tiefel and nine from Denker as Jones had eight points and seven rebounds. Fettig had 15 rebounds for Union as Talpas led in scoring with 16 points.
Clay City advances to face White River Valley tonight after the Wolverines topped Shakamak in the other Friday semifinal, 48-44.
Class A Sectional 57
At White River Valley
Clay City (40)
Denker 3-8 1-2 9, Cesinger 1-11 1-4 3, Tiefel 5-10 0-2 12, Jones 3-7 2-2 8, Allen 0-1 3-4 3, Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Rhodes 0-0 0-0 0, Harbour 1-2 3-4 5. Totals: 13-39 10-17 40.
Fettig 2-6 2-4 6, Langley 2-9 0-0 4, Talpas 5-15 4-6 16, Hamburg 3-5 0-0 6, Gambill 2-2 0-0 4, Birdsong 1-10 0-0 2. Totals: 15-47 6-10 38.
3-point fieldgoals -- CC 4-12 (Denker 2-6, Tiefel 2-2, Cesinger 0-3, Jones 0-1), UN 2-15 (Talpas 2-5, Langley 0-4, Birdsong 0-6). Total Rebounds -- CC 28 (Cesinger 7, Jones 5), UN 31 (Fettig 15, Langley 6). Total Fouls -- CC 11, UN 16. Fouled out -- UN (Hamburg). Technical fouls -- CC (Jones), UN (Hamburg). Turnovers- CC 12, UN 11.