Coming into the Division IV, Athens I District Finals, Clay’s Adam Betten and South Webster’s Ryan Fenton expected a battle from the opposing side.
They both got that — and then some.
In a thrilling contest that came down to the wire, both teams threw punch after punch in proving why, and how, they each got to the big stage.
But at the end of the day, it was a junkyard dog that helped sew up the contest in his team’s favor.
With the game hanging in the balance, and his fellow senior teammate in Cameron King riddled with four fouls, Clay’s Anthony Williams delivered with perhaps the game of his young life by scoring 11 critical second-half points, including a basket with just over five minutes to play that kickstarted a 10-3 spurt and gave the Panthers the final spurt of momentum that it needed as Clay edged South Webster by a 54-48 count at the Convo on Saturday afternoon.
The thrilling contest certainly had both coaches thrilled with their unit’s efforts.
For Adam Betten, his Clay Panthers were able to pull off their first district title victory since 1969 — despite not connecting on a single three-point field goal throughout the duration of the contest.
“We knew that there was going to be a different pace to the contest,” Betten said. “If you look at the stats, this is probably the first game all year where we haven’t hit a three. But the long ball wasn’t in our gameplan. We were going to drive and attack all night, and from that, we were able to use more sets to allow our guys to penetrate and get to the basket. I believe that our guys did an excellent job of continuing to fight, scrap, and claw, and I’m just proud of their effort.”
In Ryan Fenton’s eyes, the outcome certainly wasn’t what he and the South Webster Jeeps wanted, but the effort and the overall execution of the gameplan was certainly there.
“Our big keys coming into the contest were to hold Clay to one shot on every offensive possession, and to not allow them to beat us to the three-point line,” Fenton said. “We took away a lot of their strengths, but we just came up a little bit short there at the end. Our effort, however, was tremendous, and that showed in the way that we executed the gameplan.”
Throughout the first half of play, the momentum seesawed back and forth between the two Scioto County representatives.
After securing the first bucket of the contest off of the hands of Brody Riffe with 4:59 to play in the first quarter, Clay was able to jump out to a 6-0 lead as Nate Hinze’s driving abilities, along with the fierce defense that the Panthers supplied, were critical in establishing early momentum as the Jeeps were held scoreless for nearly five-and-a-half minutes to start the contest.
“Nate got in the paint, put the ball in the basket, and was able to do some things in the post while taking care of ballhandling duties out top as well,” Betten said. “He’s proven himself as a very versatile player throughout his career. “It’s hard to believe that when he was a freshman, he was the starting point guard. When Cameron goes down with foul trouble, we were looking around (for a calming presence), and he had to step up. He did a great job handling the ball in the latter part of the first half, and throughout the second half, when Cameron had to sit out. I am just proud of the way that he handled adversity.”
South Webster, however, fought back with the same amount of vengeance that it would show throughout the affair.
Behind a low-post bucket from Shiloah Blevins and a transition basket off of a steal by his older brother, Alek, the Jeeps fought back to close the gap to a 7-4 tally with less than 15 seconds left in the initial frame before King answered back with a buzzer-beating floater to put Clay ahead by a 9-4 tally at the end of the first quarter of play.
Following a quarter-opening layup by Alek Blevins at the start of the second frame, the Panthers utilized an 8-0 run to increase the margin to a 17-6 tally — its largest of the affair — as Hinze, King, Riffe, and Williams all contributed during the spurt.
But again, the Jeeps showed the very resolve that put them in a position to claim their first district final in four years.
First, it was a mid-range basket by the youngest Blevins brother. Then, it was a three by Matthew Shonkwiler, followed by a jumper from the eldest Blevins. As their baskets show, all of them had impacts during the frame.
The biggest impact, however, may have come from a youthful freshman who played like anything but during South Webster’s 13-4 run.
Devyn Coriell, who saw extended minutes for the Jeeps, made Clay pay the price for sagging off of him as the 5-10 freshman nailed a triple from the left side to cut a 21-16 lead down to five. Then, on the ensuing Panther possession, Coriell rose up to reject a shot, which led to another big trey from Shane Zimmerman on the other end. The sequence of plays proved to be paramount in South Webster’s ability to cut the 17-6 deficit down to a 21-19 margin at the halftime break.
“I’m proud of Devyn, as well as all of our kids, for the way that they fought and for how they contributed,” Fenton said. “Devyn gave us great minutes tonight, and our starters were able to make a run late and take several leads at different points in the contest.”
Despite the fact that King continued to deal with significant foul trouble throughout the second half, the Jeeps and the Panthers continued to trade baskets throughout the third quarter of play, as Hinze and the Blevins brothers traded blows.
However, after the dust had settled, it was Williams who came up with the quarter-ending salvo. The senior forward scored five consecutive points to lift Clay to a 35-31 lead the third quarter of play concluded behind his hustle, gritty play and his ability to find the open spot on the floor.
“We like bringing in Anthony off of the bench,” Betten said. “He brings a lot of energy to the table. To be able to go to him in the post, and watch him just turn and go with it, was a luxury. He hit some big free throws, got huge rebounds, and chased down loose balls all over the floor. I’m just proud of the way that he has continued to fight back all year long.”
But ever the fighters, South Webster rallied back behind the poise of their leading scorer.
With the Jeeps trailing by four and less than six minutes to play to decide it all, Zimmerman exploded for six of his game-high 17 points in a two-possession span.
On the latter half of the two possessions, the senior looked to be in deep trouble in the backcourt after collecting a rebound and tripping. With two Clay defenders draped all around him, it seemed as if the senior was in for a sure turnover.
But like a snake weaving its way through the forest, Zimmerman found a way. The 6-2 guard not only kept his dribble alive, but somehow split the Panthers’ defense, took the ball all the way from end to end, drew contact, and scored on a masterful and-one finish to put South Webster ahead by a 41-39 tally.
“Shane rose up to the moment,” Fenton said. “I believe that he was a good leader, and he finished off a very good career for us. He scored a lot of points, obviously, but he was also able to show that he can win games, as well. It’s good for him to go out in such a big moment, and he had a great career for us.”
Behind Zimmerman’s efforts to will the Jeeps back into the fray, the fourth quarter proved to meet and exceed the hype, as seven ties or lead changes dotted the affair.
But Williams’ continued efforts to will Clay along, as well as the reentrance of King, were crucial to the Panthers. The efforts of the pair allowed Clay to go on a 10-3 run, and King’s basket with 2:41 to play gave the Panthers the advantage.
However, even after Blevins fouled out with just over 1:30 to play in the fourth and final quarter of play, South Webster rose to the occasion.
After falling behind by a 49-44 tally, two free throws by Zimmerman and a crucial bucket by Shiloah Blevins allowed the Jeeps to close within 49-48. A go-ahead three by the former, however, glanced off of the rim, and a last-gasp attempt by Shonkwiler went in and out of the rim. Clay sewed up the affair via free throws to won their 20th consecutive affair and the district championship.
For Betten, Clay’s first district title in 48 years comes on the back of a group of guys who wouldn’t give in.
“It’s a game of runs,” Betten said. “South Webster wasn’t going to back away. You have to keep fighting and keep battling all the way through, and I thought that our guys did a great job of keeping their heads up through all of the adversity that we faced during the game.”
As for South Webster, Fenton and the Jeeps’ program will see three seniors — Alek Blevins, Shonkwiler and Zimmerman — depart. The head coach says that their impact on the program is immeasurable.
“I’m proud of them,” Fenton said. “We love them, we’re very thankful for the contributions that they made to the program, and they’ll always a big part of our program going forward. They’re Jeeps forever, and they’re always welcome back here.”