Sciotoville was ready for the season debut of their East Tartans on Tuesday night.
East hosted Clay in the first SOC One game of the season for both schools. The Tartans came out on top 70-67, led by 32 points from junior Kyle Flanery.
It was an absolute battle until the bitter end, though.
Caleb Cline opened the game with a score for the Panthers, but East pushed ahead on a 10-0 run to open the door early.
Clay wouldn’t go down without a fight, and responded with two straight scores to cut the deficit.
Reece Whitley got to the free throw line and sank both shots to make the score 10-6 around the four-minute mark in the first quarter.
Whitley finished with 20 points in the contest, and was impressive to his head coach.
“I thought Reece Whitley did a fantastic job getting to the basket, getting those looks,” Panthers head coach Adam Betten said.
The Tartans were tough to handle in the first quarter, as they used 6-2 streak to take a 19-12 edge after one.
JD Hatcher had a nice opening quarter for East, scoring five in the period for the Tartans. Hatcher would finish with 13 points.
“I thought JD Hatcher did a solid job,” East head coach Adam Bailey said. “He didn’t have a ton of points, but I’m sure he was close to a double-double. He rebounded the ball at times for us, and finished with a couple good buckets.”
In the second quarter, Clay showed their resiliency and stick-to-itiveness.
Both sides continued to go back and forth in the score column, and with five minutes remaining before halftime East held a 23-16 lead.
With two free throws from Flannery the next possession, the Tartans took a 25-16 edge.
Down by nine points, the Panthers kept the attack coming. Gage Moore nailed a three-pointer, and Cline came right back with a floater in the lane to pull within four.
Moore was big for Clay, scoring 13 points off the bench and provided a lift for his team.
Closing out the half, it looked as though East was going to pull away once again after taking a 32-25 lead.
Still, the Panthers were not surrendering. Cline recorded an and-one on an offensive rebound, and Whitley hit a basket to make the count 32-30 at halftime.
Clay was able to make a comeback and slow things down in their half court sets once the Tartans got into a bit of foul trouble late in the quarter, causing East to ease off on their defensive pressure.
“We had a lot of foul trouble,” Bailey said. “A lot of unnecessary fouls, not smart fouls away from the basket and away from the ball. We let them get to the line way too much.”
The Panthers started off hot from the free throw line, going a perfect 6 for 6 early. From there, they would miss their next seven, and finished 10 for 22 in free throws.
Those struggles would be a challenge for Clay in the second half as the game progressed, but still the Panthers were not out.
Out of the halftime break, the Tartans put some hot shooting on display just as they did in the first quarter.
Flannery hit a jumper, then nailed a three on the next possession. Will Shope capped off a 7-0 run to start the third with a basket of his own, as the floor general showed off his scoring ability.
“I thought Will [Shope] did a good job running our offense, and getting us in what we wanted to get in,” Bailey said.
Shope would finish with 13 points on the night.
Moore put a halt to the streak for East, nailing a triple for Clay to make the scoreboard say 39-33 in favor of the Tartans.
East would continue to scorch the net, taking a 9-3 run to go up 48-36 led by two shots from Shope in that stretch.
Still, the Panthers didn’t falter, and dialed themselves in defensively to slow the Tartans down.
“We kind of went through those lulls where we wouldn’t move the ball and get movement out of our offense, and we struggled a little bit offensively at times,” Bailey said.
That struggle was real as the third quarter clock ticked away, especially when the Panthers on a 9-2 run to pull within five.
Flannery would score two big baskets to stretch the lead a bit for his East squad before the buzzer was heard to end the third quarter.
Heading in to the fourth, the Tartans were out in front 55-48.
Both teams continued to trade buckets in the final period. Leading 68-60 with under four minutes to go, it looked like East had things wrapped up.
Clay had other ideas.
A basket at the rim from Jacob Wellman gave the Panthers hope. Then, Cline made a shot at the rim to draw closer.
Cline has been a mainstay for Clay the past couple seasons in the success of the Panthers.
“The guy keeps battling,” Betten said about Cline. “He’s our senior leader, he continues to work and pushes these guys. He’s taken all these guys under his wing.”
Cline concluded the contest with a team high 21 points.
Shortly after the Cline score, Wellman was open again for another point at the basket. Now, the score was 68-66 East with under two minutes to play.
With the ball on offense, the Tartans were whistled for traveling to give the ball back to Clay.
The Panthers had a chance to tie or take the lead, but were unable to do so. On the other end, East slowed things down and found Hatcher wide open down low to take a 70-66 lead.
As their chances ran out, Clay was unable to make the comeback. Whitley was sent to the free throw line with less than a second to go, and hit one but the Panthers couldn’t pull off a miracle when he missed the second, as they fell 70-67.
“I thought my guys showed some poise at times,” Betten said. “There were times when we probably should have been out of the game, and they just kept fighting. They kept battling back, they never quit.”
“To have it down to a one possession game, two points with under a minute, fantastic for our guys to keep fighting back.”
While Betten loved the fight from his team, Bailey was concerned with what transpired down the stretch, but couldn’t be upset with the win.
“We had a six-point lead with 1:38 and the ball, and we kind of shot ourselves in the foot a couple times,” Bailey said. “Give credit to the kids, they battled there at the end and got a couple stops when we needed them.”
Regardless of what side of the outcome the head coaches were on, both felt that their seniors really stepped up in the SOC spotlight.
“Zach Garrett and Devon Stevens, they’re both seniors who haven’t seen a lot of varsity time,” Bailey said. “I thought they came in and gave us really good minutes.”
“Ethan Carver is another senior that has not really played varsity at all until this year. He started tonight, we had a couple kids who weren’t allowed to start, and I thought he did an excellent job for the minutes that he played.”
For Clay, it was the play of the seniors beyond Cline that stood out.
“I thought some other seniors stepped up tonight,” Betten said, “Teddy [McCall] gave us good minutes in the first half, I thought he was able to get some loose balls. Jacob [Wellman] got some rebounds in the second half.”
Both teams will lick their wounds and get set to get back on the court on Friday.
East (1-0) will host Eastern in what expects to be a high stakes affair.
“They’re probably one of the top teams in the league,” Bailey said about Eastern. “We’re going to have to be ready.”
Clay (0-3) will be seeking their first win of the year against a tough Green team at home.
“We’ve got to bounce back on Friday, another two-headed monster coming in with Green and Tanner [Kimbler] and Tayte [Carver],” Betten said. “We’ve got to be ready to stop them.”
“We’ve got to continue to get better and wipe ourselves off, and protect our home floor on Friday.”
East 19 11 23 15 70
Clay 12 18 18 19 67
Reach Benjamin Spicer at (502)264-7318 on Twitter @BSpicerPDT or at Facebook.com/ReporterBenSpicer
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