McDERMOTT – The Clay Lady Panthers made a great comeback Wednesday night to pick up their first round win in the sectional tournament. While the game score resembled the dreaded weather conditions, at some points in the game, the young Lady Panthers put together a rally by hitting clutch jumpers and free throws to eliminate Whiteoak.
Entering the fourth quarter trailing by three points, 41-38, the Clay would hold Whiteoak to 11 points, while scoring 17, to pick up the 55-52 victory.
“This was the second game in a row we got off to a slow start,” Clay coach Scott Cayton said. “We were down 20-4 at the end of one (quarter), but for the second game in a row, our girls had no quit in them.”
Cayton had a plan to start in a zone defense against Whiteoak, because he knew they had good shooters and he thought his girls would be able to get out on Whiteoak’s shooters.
After having some trouble in zone, the Lady Panthers switched to a man defense, which Cayton’s squad seemed to be more comfortable with against Whiteoak.
“I think playing man got our offense going a little bit,” Cayton said. “We hit more shots after the first quarter.”
The results of the switch were almost instantaneous for Clay. After trailing by 16 points at the end of the first quarter, the Lady Panthers outscored the Lady Cats by 20 points in the second quarter, 25-5.
The switch to man defense caused severe troubles for Whiteoak, all the while giving Clay a much needed boost in momentum to hit shot after shot, and take a four point lead at halftime, 29-25.
Jensen Warnock and Cam Delotell each had nine points in the second quarter for Clay, while fellow teammate Regan Osborn added seven to account for the explosive 25-point quarter for the Lady Panthers.
The third quarter saw a resurgence of sort by the Lady Cats. Whiteoak was able to put together a 16-point quarter, while holding Clay to only nine points. As a result, the Lady Panthers found themselves trailing the Lady Cats by three points, 41-38 going into the fourth quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Clay fought a little bit harder than Whiteoak, in one of the more exciting quarters of basketball this season.
Late in the fourth quarter Whiteoak held a three point lead, 50-47, until Delotell hit her fifth three-pointer of the night on the wing in front of her bench. The game tying shot electrified the Lady Panthers bench as well as the Clay fans in attendance.
That wouldn’t be the last time Delotell sent her teammates and school fans into a frenzy, as she would hit another huge three-pointer, her sixth on the evening, with 22.4 seconds remaining in regulation, giving Clay a 53-50 lead.
Whiteoak tried to answer with a three of their own, but the shot rimmed out. However, the Lady Cats did get the rebound and hit the put back to cut Clay’s lead to a single point, 53-52.
As Clay took possession, Warnock was almost immediately fouled to stop the clock, and was sent to the free throw line to shoot one-for-one. The Clay freshman, showing nerves of steel hit her first free throw, and then the following free throw to give the Lady Panthers a 55-52 lead.
With less than a handful of seconds remaining, Whiteoak attempted to tie the game with a shot from just inside the half court line, but it veered left of the basket as the buzzer sounded, giving the Clay Lady Panthers a 55-52 victory.
“I’m just proud of the fact that after being down, they just showed a lot of heart,” Cayton said. “Especially for a young group of girls, sometimes being young is a blessing, you know, you don’t have those nerves or that fear. They played with a lot of poise tonight and I’m real proud of them.”
Delotell’s two three-pointers late in the fourth were huge for Clay according to Cayton.
“Most of our offense goes through Skylar (Artis) and Jensen (Warnock),” Cayton said. “Team’s obviously see our stats and focus on them, but Cam has been a great three point shooter for us all year.”
Cayton was also impressed with Warnock’s clutch free throw shots to give Clay a three-point lead with just a few seconds remaining in the game.
“When she gets in a rhythm and gets that nice follow through, and finishes high, she’s as good a shooter as anybody around,” Cayton said. “Those foul shots were picture perfect, and I could tell immediately they were going in.”
Warnock acknowledged she was really nervous going to the line that late in the game, knowing how important those shots would be for her team.
“I just took a deep breath and tried to focus on putting them in,” Warnock said.
Delotell was basically speechless at the end of the game, excited for her team’s win over Whiteoak, and advancement in the sectional tournament.
As a result of the win, Clay will play the Notre Dame Lady Titans on Saturday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. The game will be taking place at Northwest High School.
Clay – Warnock 8-6-25, Delotell 6-2-20, Osborn 3-0-7, Adams 0-1-1, Brown 0-1-1, Balestra 0-1-1
Whiteoak – Wardlow 9-4-24, Carr 3-7-13, Jones 3-0-6, Harless 2-1-5, Luman 1-2-4
Three-point field goals – Clay 10 (Delotell 6, Warnock 3, Osborn) Whiteoak 2 (Wardlow 2)
Reach Michael Hamilton at 740-353-3101, ext 1931, or on Twitter @MikeHamilton82.