By RICK CURL
For The Brazil Times
BLOOMFIELD -- Friday's Southwestern Indiana Athletic Conference game between host Bloomfield and visiting Clay City quickly turned from a possible rout into an all-out battle.
The Cardinals -- who trailed by as many as 10 points in the first quarter -- rallied back, then got solid free throw shooting from some unlikely sources on their way to a 72-66 win.
"It was a war," BHS (5-1, 3-1) coach Matt Britton said in the aftermath. "Clay City's kids played so hard, they were so physical and they just pushed it down our throat all night long."
That was never more apparent than in the play of the Eels' trigger Blake Cesinger. The 6-3 senior clawed and scratched his way to a game-high 29 points and 16 rebounds.
"They're a handful to guard," Britton said. "Blake Cesinger is an outstanding basketball player and he makes all his teammates better."
Cesinger was instrumental in a quick start by the Clay City squad that turned a two-point contest at the beginning into a 20-10 lead with just over two and a half minutes to play in the opening stanza.
"They kind of rocked us back on our heels a little bit there in the first half," Britton said. "They came out throwing some big blows and to our kids credit we didn't fold, we just kept battling and scratching."
The Cardinals had started their comeback almost as quickly as they had gotten behind. Over the final segment of the first quarter they managed to outscore the Eels 7-2 and trim the gap to 22-17 at the break.
That was the end of the first round in a contest that saw the Cardinals slowly and methodically work their way to a 36-35 lead at the half before the Eels grabbed the lead back and held a 48-46 lead at the end of the third quarter.
The stage was now set for an offensively charged fourth quarter that saw the Cardinal finally prevail with a 26-18 edge in the frame.
Down the final stretch the free throw shooting of not just senior stalwart Ben Hays, but also Brandon Van Sant and sophomore Evan Fuller helped seal the win.
"You can't say enough about the free throw shooting those guys gave us," Britton said. "In the fourth quarter Brandon and Evan were really key for us.
"They stepped up and made those free throws when they counted and they also did a real nice job on the boards defensively at the end of the game."
Hays finished the contest with 19 points behind Robinson's tally and just ahead of Myers 13 points and Van Sant's 11.
"Ben Hays and Jared Myers played a really gutsy game, especially in the second half," Britton said. "Some of the best they've played."
Bloomfield won the junior varsity contest 49-42.
Fuller led the Cards with 20 points while Eli Combs added eight, Jackson Stone five, Logan Bucher four, Conner Dowden and Clayton Burch six each while Taylor Skinner, Parker Ramsay, Drake Frederick, Cole Deaton and J.J. Kingsley also played.
The Eels are off until Saturday when they take on Cascade at home beginning at 6 p.m.
CLAY CITY (66)
Evan Rogers 2-6 2-2 8, Trevor Singer 4-13 2-3 10, Josh Miller 1-3 0-0 2, Logan Cesinger 1-3 1-2 3, Blake Cesinger 6-18 14-15 29, Paiden Myers 0-0 0-0 0, Joshua Arcenal 0-1 0-0 0, Easton Booe 4-9 0-0 9, Steven Phillips 1-2 1-2 3, Kurtis Yocom 1-1 0-2 2. Totals 20-56 20-26 66.
Jesse Helms 1-2 0-0 3, Kyle Robinson 10-14 3-3 23, Brandon VanSant 3-5 4-7 11, Jared Myers 4-7 3-4 13, Ben Hays 4-9 10-12 19, Evan Fuller 0-0 3-4 3, Taylor Skinner 0-0 0-0 0, Logan Bucher 0-1, 0-0 0, Clayton Burch 0-0 0-0 0, Eli Combs 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-40 23-30 72.
3-point shooting -- Clay City 6-30 (B. Cesinger 3-11, Rogers 2-5, Booe 1-5, Phillips 0-1, L. Cesinger 0-2, Singer 0-5, Arcenal 0-1), Bloomfield 5-14 (Myers 2-4, Hays 1-4, Helms 1-2, Dowden 0-1, Bucher 0-1). Rebounds -- Clay City 31 (B. Cesinger 16), Bloomfield 33 (Robinson 8). Steals -- Clay City 4 (Singer 2), Bloomfield 6 (Myers 2, Robinson 2). Blocks -- none. Turnovers -- Clay City 12, Bloomfield 17. Total fouls -- Clay City 23, Bloomfield 22. Fouled out -- L. Cesinger. Technical fouls -- none. Junior varsity -- Bloomfield 49, Clay City 42.