GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Was it a full moon? Planet alignment? Polar vortex? Who knows why, but Tuesday’s district matchup between the Clay High Blue Devils and the visiting Matanzas Pirates was …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Was it a full moon? Planet alignment? Polar vortex? Who knows why, but Tuesday’s district matchup between the Clay High Blue Devils and the visiting Matanzas Pirates was highly unusual.
About the only thing the ball could hit for the first 3:16 of play was the floor. That all changed when Clay center Cooper Vaughan finally hit one of two free throws to put Clay up 1-0 at 4:44. It was just that crazy of a night.
“We seem to find ourselves in a lot of those lately,” said Clay coach Jared Moses. “Early on in the season, we had good success but we told the kids as we go on, the teams get tougher. The good thing about this group is they are finding ways, although not always pretty, they are finding ways to get it done. We have some very capable shooters. We always talk about focusing and finishing.”
Clay did just that as they gutted through three quarters of some very hard, but sometimes chaotic play. With a great defensive effort and several terrific outside shots in the fourth period, Clay pulled out a 43-39 home victory just before the Christmas break to firmly lock the Blue Devils in second place behind Palatka (6-1, 4-0), who lost 59-49 to Impact Academy of Jacksonville on December 20.
Clay (6-1, 2-1) showed moments of brilliance with several steals from Bruce Griner, one from a sloppy Pirate throw-in that Griner dropped for two with 2:41 left in the first that tied the game.
At the end of the first period, if you didn’t know it was a basketball game, the score would resemble a soccer match with a 5-7 score in Clay’s favor.
“We’re in a little bit of a slump,” said Moses. “This isn’t really us as far as how we can execute, as far as catching the ball and that kind of stuff. Just a little careless.”
In the second, notables were Griner getting hot from outside, hitting a 3-pointer at 5:00 to get his team within a point, 15-14, and Vaughan with back-to-back steals at 3:50. Brishaun Britt was inside all night, hitting a buzzer beater down low to get his team within 1 as the horn sounded for the half break with Matanzas ahead 21-20.
The second half didn’t take as long to get going with another steal and layup by Britt at 1:07. Everything was tied up at 26 each with 4:03 still in the third as both teams continued hustling back and forth on the court. Down by two going into the fourth, it was still anyone’s game.
In the fourth period, the Blue Devils got hot and hit several just when they needed it, most notably Britt’s 3-pointer outside the line at the top of the key with 1:00 left to play that gave the Devils a 42-39 advantage that Matanzas just could not dig their way out of.
With great inside play to rob the Pirates, Clay stole the ball, burned down the clock, and hit one more free throw to seal the deal, 43-39.
“It’s huge. 3-1 in the district, it feels great,” said Moses. “It gives us the chance to see how we match up with everybody. I like where we stand. Palatka is obviously out in front of everybody, so we’re just going to worry about us. That’s been our thing all year, just worry about us.”
Clay will host the Clay Christmas Classic to continue honing their skills as the meat of the season hits after winter break as the Blue Devils look to make a run for the playoffs.