PORTSMOUTH – It’s been two years since the Clay Panthers made their magical run that included a sectional title, a district title, and a regional title game appearance before falling to Columbus Wellington School, one game short of a final four appearance.
Since then, with results in the current postseason pending, the Panthers are still the last team to make it to the regional finals from Scioto County. Three teams a season ago, the Minford girls’, the Notre Dame girls’, and the Wheelersburg boys’ teams all made regional semifinal appearances in 2018, but all failed to make it as far as the 2016-17 Panthers.
That season for Clay has been different in a number of ways than this one. Two years ago, the Panthers finished 20-2 in the regular season, while this year’s Clay squad finished their regular season 6-16.
But, now that it’s officially tournament time for his group, Panthers head coach Garrick Anderson is reminding them that their new record is 0-0, not 6-16.
“Our mindset going into the tournament is that it’s a new season,” said Anderson. “We’re no longer 6-16, we’re 0-0. Ever since the tournament draw came out, I’ve seen a new level on confidence about our team. Our intensity in practice has turned up, our kids have taken it as a new season.”
Clay begins tournament play with a sectional final game against Peebles, a team all Division IV teams in Southern Ohio are more than familiar with.
Peebles, like Clay two seasons ago, is fresh off of a regional final appearance in 2017-18, but graduated most of their contributors from that team. The Indians enter Wednesday’s sectional final vs. Clay 13-9, which includes a 53-51 road win over the Panthers which occurred on January 22nd.
After three quarters, Clay led Peebles 34-33 and would keep things close down the stretch. However, due to some ill timed passes and decisions on the offensive end, Peebles would be able to hold on and steal a two point road win over the Panthers. Since then, Anderson believes that his team has improved in being able to close out games.
When deciding whether or not that’s the case, a strong opening quarter performance vs. one of the best teams in Division III in Eastern Pike and a double overtime road win over East should settle the case.
“I think we grew in that double overtime win against East and our final game against Eastern,” said Anderson. “The kids are being more confident on the offensive end and executing our defensive game plans. We have to be able to closeout games, we had opportunities against Peebles earlier the year to win the game, but we just couldn’t finish. Our kids are learning from their mistakes and understand how important it is to value the possession of the basketball. Eliminating live ball turnovers is something we have been getting better at, but I still feel as if we must convert other teams turnovers into points and that can be a way to create offense.”
Even though Clay ultimately fell to Peebles in late January, it’s not as if the Indians are a world beating squad similar to that of a season ago.
Anderson understands that, and while he knows that if his guys play like he knows they can they are more than capable of winning, he’s still hoping they play with the chip on their shoulder needed to exact a revenge win.
“Us coaches have been instilling the underdog role and we’ve been talking to these guys about seizing the moment, taking the opportunity that’s available,” said Anderson. “We have a couple of kids that were on the regional-runner up team under Coach (Adam) Betten and they understand the atmosphere of the Convo, but there is a little extra feeling when you are out there playing. Brody Riffe and Cameron King, guards on that regional final team, talked to the kids Monday and one thing that they mentioned was play with no regret. I’m confident our kids are ready. We had a great week and a half of practice and it’s time to roll the ball out and play. It’s the best time of the year.”
Clay and Peebles tipoff at approximately 8:30 p.m. following the conclusion of Green and Whiteoak’s sectional final which begins at 6:00 p.m.
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT