FRANKLIN FURNACE — What a way to start 2021 if you’re the Clay Panthers.
In their return to Southern Ohio Conference Division I play after the new year, the Panthers picked up a pair of league wins — including Friday’s come-from-behind 51-48 road win over Green.
The prior of the two wins came on Tuesday night in a 40-34 home decision over East, one in which they only trailed after the first quarter of play.
Friday’s win over Green was much different, as the Panthers entered the fourth quarter trailing by a 12-point margin at 42-30.
Ultimately, it was Clay’s defensive effort which helped accelerate its comeback against the Bobcats — as it limited Green to just six fourth-quarter points while posting a game-best 21 itself in the final eight minutes.
Clay coach Garrick “Tiny” Anderson said following the game that after a COVID-19 setback in the early stages of the season, he feels as if his team is finally getting into playing shape — and that Friday’s win showcased that.
“Our guys are starting to get in shape, we had a layoff due to quarantine which set us back,” Anderson said. “We’ve worked hard these last few weeks on getting ourselves back into game shape. Our practices have been more intense. The kids came over in the fourth quarter ready to go.”
In that deciding fourth quarter, Clay was paced on the offensive end by senior Shaden Malone.
Malone scored 17 of his game-high 27 points in the final period — while accounting for over 80-percent of the Panthers’ points in that stretch.
Fellow seniors Clay Cottle and Jaden Jessee also reached double digits for the Panthers, scoring 10 apiece.
“Our seniors have had a sour taste in their mouth by the way the season started,” Anderson said. “Shaden and Clay are three-year starters and Jaden played a lot of minutes last year as a junior. They love to compete and showed a lot of leadership tonight by communicating with everyone else on the floor.”
Prior to their win over East, the Panthers (2-8, 2-3 SOC I) started the season winless in their first eight contests.
Back-to-back stellar performances on the defensive end helped add two wins to their column, and it didn’t happen without a full team effort.
Unofficially, Clay forced 12 Green turnovers while committing just five itself.
“Evan Balestra, Gavin Cayton, Carson Porginski and Cullen Payne all played great defensively tonight,” Anderson said. “They accepted their roles and it provided a great spark for us. We really emphasized finishing and winning games with our defense. Tonight, I thought we did just that. Green was scoring in the 60s and 70s and to hold them to 48 points is a credit to our guys. Our coaches came up with a great gameplan and the kids bought into it. Offensively we went with what worked. We got shots within our offense and that’s what we wanted.”
Green sophomore Levi Sampson scored a team-high 18 points on seven field goals and 4-of-7 foul shooting.
Senior Ethan Huffman added 12 points for the Bobcats — on five field goals and 2-of-2 free-throw shooting.
Holding a two-win, eight-loss record entering Saturday’s SOC I makeup game versus Symmes Valley, Anderson says he’s hoping the new year and a taste of winning continues his Panthers on their improved track since the start of the season.
“We have to continue to grind and get better. I always say we want to be playing our best basketball come tournament time,” Anderson said. “We are nowhere near where we want to be, we have to continue to get better each and every game. Hopefully, these last two games will build some momentum and the kids continue to believe in what us coaches are telling them.”
Clay traveled to Symmes Valley on Saturday night, and will have league games versus Notre Dame and New Boston on Tuesday and Friday, respectively.
Green (1-8, 0-5 SOC I) has league games versus Ironton St. Joe (Tuesday), East (Friday) and Symmes Valley (Saturday) this week.
Clay 8 15 7 21 — 51
Green 19 11 12 6 — 48
CLAY 51 (2-8, 2-3 SOC I)
Clay Cottle 3 3-4 10, Shaden Malone 11 5-9 27, Gavin Cayton 0 0-0 0, Carson Porginski 1 0-0 2, Cullen Payne 0 0-0 0, Evan Balestra 1 0-0 2, Jaden Jessee 4 2-2 10; TOTALS 20 10-15 51; Three-point field goals: 1 (Clay Cottle 1)
GREEN 48 (1-8, 0-5 SOC I)
Levi Sampson 7 4-7 18, Ethan Huffman 5 2-2 12, Levi Blevins 3 0-0 8, Levi Waddell 0 0-0 0, Levi Singleton 4 0-1 9, Wiley Sanders 0 1-2 1; TOTALS: 19 7-12 48; Three-point field goals: 3 (Levi Blevins 2, Levi Singleton 1)
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved