PDT Sports Contributor
MCDERMOTT – In any basketball game, runs can usually heighten the excitement and suspense of the contest.
Saturday’s matchup between No. 2 Clay Panthers and the No. 7 Leesburg Fairfield Lions was exactly that. However, Clay was able to fend off each of Fairfield’s runs with several runs of their own to propel the Panthers to a 53-49 victory over the Lions in overtime at Northwest High School.
The Panthers, who moved to 17-5 on the season with the victory, went on two separate 9-0 runs to end the first and second quarters and sealed the deal at the end of the contest with a 7-2 run to put the game away in overtime.
Clay coach Kelly White said that the way in which his Panthers responded to adversity was indicative of his team’s leadership.
“We have a lot of experience and good senior leadership,” White said. “They didn’t buckle under the pressure. They stepped up when they had to, made the shots, got the ball inside and made the free throws down the stretch.”
Emily Widdowson, who is one of six seniors on the Clay roster, showed great poise throughout the contest as she scored a game-high 21 points, including 14 of the Panthers’ 32 points in the first half.
“We have two six-footers inside and we like to get the ball to them, but when the opponent packs it in on us, Emily is very dangerous and she scores a lot of points,” White said. “She scored 29 points in her last game. She’s a very good offensive player and goes to the basket real well and makes her shots.”
Widdowson was elated with her team’s effort and performance in the contest.
“We definitely played well as a team and we complimented each other well,” Widdowson said. “… I am really happy with how we played.”
White was also very pleased with Shannon Curley’s play in the contest. The floor general controlled the pace of the game for the Panthers as the senior complied seven points and five assists on the day.
Her two free throws with less than 40 seconds left in the contest helped extend Clay’s lead to four points, which ended up being the difference in the ballgame.
“When I got the ball, got fouled and was heading to the line, I just knew that I had to make these for my team,” Curley said.
“She’s our point guard, and she’s been around forever,” White said. “The pressure does not bother her; she just steps up and handles the ball. She doesn’t care if it’s 2-0 or 51-50; she’s going to play solid with the ball.”
Widdowson concurred with her coach and said that Curley and Madison Freeman do an excellent job at running the show for the Panthers.
“Without Shannon, our offense wouldn’t be nearly as efficient as it is now,” White said. “Shannon and Madison are two of the best guards in the SOC and they give up a lot of their opportunities for the rest of us to get our shots.”
Katie Redding added that she thought Clay did a good job of handing the Lions’ overall pressure.
“The guards for Fairfield came out with a lot of pressure,” Redding said. “We turned it over some, but we handled it pretty well. We came out and played like seniors.”
Fairfield started out the contest by hitting their first three shots to gain a 7-0 advantage with barely over a minute and a half gone in the contest on the strength of Kaitlin Evans’ five points.
However, Clay came right back and was able to outscore the Lions 15-4 over the rest of the period behind eight points from Widdowson.
The second-quarter deficit would remain right around five points until Clay went on its second 9-0 run of the contest. Widdowson, Curley and Katie Redding would end up scoring a combined 14 of Clay’s 17 points in the period to take a 32-20 lead into the locker room.
The Panthers extended the lead to as much as 13 points before Fairfield made its biggest run of the contest, a 13-0 swing, to tie the game. Heather Cox and Lydia Souders were the big factors during the scoring run as the post players combined for nine of the 13 points during the run.
From then on, the difference in points between the two squads was no more than four as the teams traded a series of baskets. Evans’ runner dropped with just over 15 seconds remaining to officially send the contest to overtime.
Clay’s aforementioned shooting from the free throw line would ultimately do the Lions in as the Panthers hit four free throws in the final 40 seconds to seal the victory.
With the win, Clay will officially play SOC I foe Eastern in the Division IV District Semifinals next Saturday at Jackson High School. The third-seeded Eagles defeated No. 6 Ironton St. Joseph 63-52 in a sectional final at Meigs High School.
White said that the Panthers are excited to just have the opportunity to play at Jackson.
“We’re just excited to be there,” White said before knowing who Clay was going to play. “We don’t care who we’re playing. We’ll play whoever shows up on the other bench.”
Leesburg Fairfield 11 9 8 17 4 – 49
Clay 15 17 5 8 8 – 53
Leesburg Fairfield – Arnold 1-0-2, Evans 4-2-11, Souders 4-1-9, Bobb 4-0-9, Hatton 1-0-2, Cox 7-2-16, Totals 21-5-49.
Clay – Whitley 0-3-3, Gilliland 7-0-14, Curley 2-2-7, Widdowson 8-5-21, Redding 3-2-8, Totals 20-12-53.
3-Point Goals – Leesburg Fairfield 2 (Evans, Bobb); Clay 3 (Redding 2, Curley).
Records – Leesburg Fairfield 7-13, Clay 17-5.