By THOMAS P. WEAVER, HORIZON Editor
WATERTOWN • February 27, 2013
It’s been a pretty smooth ride so far, but the Clay County Bulldogs’ road to the State Tournament was set to get a little bumpy here Tuesday night as the team was scheduled to face off with Clarkrange in the Region 4A semi-finals in a matchup with a shot at making the State Tournament in Murfreesboro on the line.
The game comes on the heels of the Bulldogs claiming the District 7A championship with a win over Jackson County last week by a score of 52-37 and a 37-34 Region 4A opening victory at home against Trousdale County last Saturday night.
The Dawgs (23-5) have already beaten the Buffaloes (16-15) twice this season, but facing a team for the third time is always tough.
“It will be a tough one,” head coach Rob Edwards explained. “We got them by 10 or so the first time we played, but only by four the last time.
“Anytime you are playing somebody from your own district it’s going to be tough.”
Edwards said the experience of his four senior starters would be key in the elimination game. The team is used to playing with five seniors, but Austin Cherry is still battling an infection in his knee and his coach said he would sit out the game Tuesday night.
“Our seniors will have to carry us,” Edwards said. “Austin is still out and we will need everybody to step up.”
Junior guard J.R. Fraga has been playing in place of Cherry since the postseason began joining point guard Corey Hamilton, shooting guard Jake Edwards, utility man Eddie Roach, and center Dylan Carter in the starting five.
Edwards explained the matchup between Carter and Buffalo big man Landon Baldwin, who scored 20 points in Clarkrange’s double-overtime victory over Gordonsville in the first round of the Region tournament, would be one to watch.
“If we can limit his effectiveness under the basket, then we should be alright,” Edwards said. “That will be the key matchup in the game.”
With a win over the Buffaloes, the Bulldogs will advance to the Region championship game here at 7 p.m. Thursday night and would be guaranteed an appearance in the sectional (sub-state) round where they could have a shot at making the school’s sixth State Tournament appearance.
Becoming Region 4A champions would afford Clay County a home game next Monday night at 7 p.m. and a runner-up finish would send them traveling to the Region 3A champion’s home the same night at the same time.
Remaining teams in Region 3A include Boyd Buchanan (24-7), Chattanooga Arts and Sciences (16-12), Silverdale Academy (9-21), and Grace Baptist Academy (11-13).
When asked if his players realized the weight the game carried Tuesday night towards an eventual Elite 8 berth, Edwards said he had discussed the long-term goal with his team, but not recently.
“Right now we are taking it one game at a time, but we did sit down and talk about the opportunity we have as a team to make it to Murfreesboro before we began the postseason, but I haven’t mentioned it since then,” Edwards said Monday. “These guys know what’s on the line and right now we’ve got to beat Clarkrange tomorrow night before we can worry about anything else.”
BOYS 7A CHAMPIONSHIP
LIVINGSTON-A quick start by eventual District 7A Tournament MVP Corey Hamilton jump-started the Bulldogs to a convincing victory here over Jackson County last week by a score of 52-37.
Hamilton scored the first three baskets of the game giving his Clay County team an early 6-0 lead they would never relinquish as they went on to claim the District 7A championship.
The shifty guard scored eight of his game-high 21 points in the first quarter, but it was Edwards who broke the game open sparking an 8-0 run early in the second stanza with two of his 12 points.
His layup, a put back by Taylor Brown, a Carter free throw, and three more from Hamilton completed the run and gave the Bulldogs a 24-15 halftime lead.
Hamilton opened the second half with two from the charity stripe and Roach nailed a trifecta to extend the margin to 14 early in the period, but a Blue Devil push cut the advantage to six (32-26) by quarter’s end.
Hamilton responded by scoring the next six points to put his team back up by 12 with just over five minutes to play.
A Jackson County response immediately cut the margin back to 10, but that would be as close as they would get as Clay County went on to take the 15-point win and claim the conference championship.
DAWGS (52)-Hamilton 21, Edwards 12, Roach 12, Carter 3, Fraga 2, Brown 2.
BOYS REGION 4A OPENER
CELINA-The Bulldogs now know the importance of being a top seed in a Region tournament.
Clay County had an “off” night over the weekend in their Region 4A opener here at home against Trousdale County, but the fourth-seeded Yellow Jackets still couldn’t knock of the District 7A champions as the Bulldogs squeaked out a 37-34 ugly victory.
“Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t play our best, but we didn’t play bad either,” Edwards said in response to the outing. “Anytime you hold a team to 30 points, you’ve played pretty good defensively.
“We just couldn’t get any offensive rhythm going.”
Edwards said his team shot an anemic 31% from the field in the game and missed shots they normally make.
“Give them credit–they played hard and had a good game plan packing in the zone and stalling on the offensive end,” the coach said, “but that didn’t have anything to do with us shooting air-balls?”
Three of those shots totally missing the mark came in the first quarter and three more were sprinkled in throughout the game as the Dawgs struggled to find the basket.
Hamilton hit a three-pointer at the first-frame buzzer to give Clay County a 7-5 lead and the team did put up 10 points in the second quarter, but only took a 17-16 advantage into the break.
An Edwards three gave the Bulldogs a fair lead with under a minute to play in the third period. They led 26-22 then, but Trousdale responded to cut the margin to three by the end of the quarter.
The start of the final frame saw an attempted lob pass to Carter, but a foul upended the payoff. The center did go on to score his only five points of the game in the period as the Yellow Jackets were forced to play man-to-man defense and the inside force took advantage of the one-on-one opportunities.
Clay County’s largest lead of the game came on a Fraga three-point basket at the 5:40-mark. The big shot put the Dawgs up six, but the margin didn’t last long as the back-and-forth began.
With just under two minutes remaining a pair of Trousdale County free throws cut the Bulldog lead to one, 33-32, but Edwards drove the lane, was fouled, and made them both to put his team back up three.
The Yellow Jackets then scored again and had a chance to tie the game with a free throw, but a miss left the score 35-34 with a minute to go.
Carter dropped in a pair of foul shots to change the scoreboard to 37-34 with under 30 seconds to play, but Trousdale had the ball.
They advanced it to half-court and called their final timeout with 3.9 seconds remaining and needed a three-pointer to tie.
A nicely executed inbounds play got the Yellow Jackets a look from behind the arc, but the shot was in-and-out keeping the Dawgs’ season alive.
DAWGS (37)-Hamilton 13, Edwards 11, Fraga 6, Carter 5, Roach 2.