(DAILY AMERICAN REPUBLIC/Rob Tate) [Order this photo]
(DAILY AMERICAN REPUBLIC/Rob Tate)
A decade-long BRL losing streak was snapped Saturday night though against the top-ranked team in Class 1.
The Tigers jumped on South Iron from the start and led wire-to-wire in the teams' third meeting of the season. The Panthers trailed by 14 at halftime, cut the deficit to five points in the fourth quarter but couldn't break even in a 70-64 decision.
The tournament title is the eighth in the 76 year history of the tournament for Clearwater and the first since 2002. South Iron had won seven of the last eight coming in.
The BRL always came a week after playing in the Ozark Foothills Conference for Clearwater which made for fighting through tired legs.
"It just seemed like we hadn't competed well in the Black River League," Clearwater coach Louis Bell said. "Even the great years we had. I like it better having a little time between tournaments."
The Tigers (14-4) had lost twice to South Iron earlier in the season but were both by a combined seven points.
"We felt like we could have won one of those other two and felt like we had a good chance to win this one," Bell said.
The Tigers rolled out to a strong first half. They won the first quarter 20-14 as Ethan Roach knocked down two 3s.
"We came out pumped up and jumped out to an early lead," Roach said. "It shocked me at first because South Iron always comes to play. I was just real proud of my teammates to come and get this win tonight."
Clearwater then held South Iron to just three field goals in the second quarter while outscoring them 15-7 to lead 35-21 at the break.
"Ethan hit a couple 3s early which is huge," Bell said. "Austin (Ayers) especially in that first half (was big). He only scored four (points) but getting to the rim and getting the offensive rebounds. He did an outstanding job keeping possessions alive. Matthew (D'Amico) hit a big 3. We had guys step up and do what they are capable of doing."
Clearwater then had to weather the storm knowing the Panthers were perfectly capable of a comeback.
"We came out in third and we pushed the lead up a little bit," Bell said. "We told the players that they are going to turn up the intensity and that they just had to take care of the ball and make plays."
The Tigers took a 15-point lead into the fourth quarter where the teams went back-and-forth.
South Iron guard Marcus Hampton was instrumental early in the fourth as he had seven points including a 3-pointer that made it 55-44 Clearwater with 5:04 to play.
Korbin Ruble then made it a seven-point game with five points total on back-to-back possessions.
A 3-pointer by South Iron sophomore Demetrius Cornell made it 59-54 Tigers.
Clearwater kept getting to the line to maintain the lead though. A field goal by Larenzo Cornell for South Iron made it 65-60 with 45 seconds left. But the Tigers went 5-of-6 from the line over the last 42.1 seconds to seal the win.
Clearwater made just two field goals in the last quarter but were 17-for-24 from the line.
"Hands down South Iron has the best defense I've played against," Roach said. "I commend them 100 percent. All we had to do was take care of the ball and they put a strong defense on us. If we just take care of the ball and hit our free throws, we should have no problem getting the 'W' tonight."
Roach finished with a game-high 22 points. DayVon Slack had a big night as well with 18 points including 8-of-12 from the line. Ayers had 14 points.
For South Iron, Hampton finished with 20 points, Larenzo Cornell had 14 and Ruble had 11.
"Ever since freshman year, BRL has been a big tournament for us," Roach said. "South Iron has always been a top seed. For it being here my senior year at Clearwater and to be able to upset South Iron was really an awesome feeling. It's a dream I've had my whole high school career."
Bell was pleased afterwards of everyone's effort.
"It's a great win for the kids," Bell said. "I'm happy for them and they deserve it. The community deserves it. They came out and supported us great."