Times Sports Editor
SWITZ CITY -- The Clay City Eels came up with the defensive effort it has been looking for all season when it counted the most. The boys' basketball team locked down White River Valley's top-two scorers and the result was a 35-19 sectional championship on Saturday night.
While those that follow the Chinese Zodiac will notice that 2012 is the year of the Black Dragon, it's hard to argue that it isn't the year of the Eels as Clay City's boys join their female counterparts as basketball sectional champions.
Clay City head coach Vance Edmondson agreed that it has been a pretty special year for Eels' sports.
"We've done some firsts this year. The girls get to the volleyball regional and get a three-peat in basketball. We beat Northview and then turn around and win a sectional title tonight. It's a special year. It's the year of the Eels. It's a special class and we're not done yet," Edmondson said after the victory that propels Clay City into Saturday's Martinsvilel Regional.
Good old fashioned defensive effort was the key on Saturday night as Clay City held WRV's John Ashcraft and Cade Hill without a single point. The pair have combined for better than 25 points per contest coming into the final week of the regular season. The Eels' held the duo to a combined 0-for-12 from the field.
"It was a heck of an effort. I've never seen these guys play defense like that," Clay City coach Vance Edmondson said. "I've been preaching it all year long. They had the ability to do it and they showed it tonight. It was especially nice getting off to a slow start like we did tonight. It kept us in it until we were able to get some baskets. They didn't let up. Defense is what won the game for them tonight.
"I think that just shows how good the defense was we played tonight," Edmondson added in regards to shutting out Ashcraft and Hill. "To hold those guys scoreless, it was a heck of an effort on our part."
However, Clay City stepped up its pressure in the second period and began to edge ahead as Ben Denker hit his own 3-pointer and Jake Tiefel added four points as the Eels moved up 13-10 at the intermission.
The third quarter was even more impressive for Clay City as Blake Cesinger scored and added a free throw off an offensive rebound for a 16-10 lead. Tiefel added two more from the charity stripe and the Eels held the Wolverines without a point.
With a 18-10 lead after three quarters of action, Clay City could have let up in its halfcourt defense, but a Brylan Jones jumper pushed the gap to double-digits. A score by WRV's Nick Johnson broke a nearly 15-minute scoring drought for the Wolverines.
"I think both teams played great defense tonight. We were just able to make free throws down the stretch and take care of the ball," Edmondson said. "The guys didn't give up and played hard for the entire 32 minutes. We didn't sub until the end there. We were just playing so well that I didn't feel the need to make any substitutions."
Taking care of the ball down the stretch was pivotal as WRV tried to amp up the pressure, but the Eels led 21-14 before Tyler Allen came up with a key score with five minutes remaining. Cesinger followed with a driving, over-the-shoulder scoop shot with 3:46 remaining that forced a WRV timeout with the Eels ahead 25-14.
From there, the Eels were in the bonus, the Wolverines got a 3-pointer from Mitch Ingram to narrow the Clay City lead to 25-17. However, a free throw from Tiefel and two more from Jones pushed the lead back to 28-17.
Clay City got some big offensive rebounds to keep the clock running after a couple of missed front ends of 1-and-1 chances. Tiefel, Cesinger, Jones and Allen all came up with key boards or deflections.
"In the first quarter we kind of let them get some open shots that we normally wouldn't give up," Eels' guard Ben Denker said. "We kind of locked down in the second quarter. I think they scored (11) points in the second half. We just played good team defense and that's what won tonight. Brylan (Jones) works hard, (Tyler) Allen works hard and even Jake (Tiefel) gets in there. Blake (Cesinger) is our leading rebounder and they all work hard and got the job done (on the boards)."
Tiefel, who had eight points and seven rebounds, was understandably excited after winning another title to add to the one his class won as a freshman.
"Oh my God it's amazing," Tiefel said. "I can't even describe how happy I am right now. We were really prepared for it. We wanted to hold on and not let it get away. Our fans have been great all year long."
Jones, who had six rebounds and four points, admitted that a win over the Knights in the county battle was big, but wasn't the same as adding a trophy to the school's case.
"White River Valley, they are good," Brylan Jones said. "We had to play our best game to do what we did (tonight). This is the greatest feeling I've ever had besides beating Northview. This is even better than beating them. (The fans) got us through the game. Any time we were down in the second half, they got us back in the game. I love them."
Denker perhaps summed it up for the rest of his teammates as the senior tried to sum up his emotions.
"Winning as a senior is something you dream about from junior high level and even elementary level, it's really unexplainable."
The Eels (15-8 overall) advance to face the winner of the South Decatur Sectional. The championship game will be played between Hauser (15-6) and Shawe Memorial (8-14) on Monday evening.
Class A Sectional 57
At White River Valley
Clay City (35)
Denker 1-2 5-6 8, Cesinger 2-6 1-3 5, Tiefel 1-2 6-8 8, Jones 1-5 2-2 4, Allen 2-5 5-8 10, Bigger 0-0 0-0 0, Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Buell 0-0 0-0 0, Harbour 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 7-20 19-27 35.
Fisher 3-11 0-0 7, O'Haver 0-2 0-0 0, Hill 0-8 0-0 0, Ashcraft 0-4 0-0 0, Mowery 2-6 3-5 7, Gamble 0-0 0-0 0, Carpenter 0-1 0-0 0, Ingram 1-3 0-0 3, Johnson 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 7-37 3-5 19.
3-point fieldgoals -- CC 2-7 (Denker 1-2, Allen 1-3, Cesinger 0-1, Jones 0-1), WRV 2-17 (Fisher 1-6, Ingram 1-3, Hill 0-5, Ashcraft 0-2, O'Haver 0-1). Total Rebounds -- CC 25 (Cesinger 8, Tiefel 7, Jones 6), WRV 22 (Mowery 8). Total Fouls -- CC 9, WRV 19. Fouled out -- CC (None), WRV (Fisher). Turnovers -- CC 7, WRV 8.