ROSE HILL — Defense proved to be the story Friday night in Clinton’s 72-59 win over West Bladen in the championship game of the Four County Conference Tournament at Union High School.
Although the two teams battled almost evenly through the first half with the Knights clinging to a 31-30 halftime edge, there was nearly no indication for what was to come.
Sayaun Dent led West Bladen in the opening quarter, bombing in a three-pointer and hitting tow other baskets en route to a 15-13 lead heading into the second stanza. That’s where Stefan McDonald took over.
The Knights’ senior put 11 points on the board, and West Bladen needed every one of those points as the Dark Horses took the quarter 17-16 and trailed by just one going into the intermission.
Then the tables turned to the favor of Clinton.
The Dark Horses flummoxed West Bladen with a 3-2 zone that featured its height out top, taking away any chances for three-point shots and closing off passes over the top.
The third quarter continued the evenly played game, but Clinton manufactured a 13-3 run — the Knights’ lone basket coming on a three-pointer by Will Lambeth — to finish the period and took a 49-38 lead into the fourth quarter.
The time was ripe for one of West Bladen’s patented strong finishes, but the Dark Horses would have none of it. Despite the 21 points put up by the Knights, Clinton matched every score and then some, putting 23 points on the board to seal the 13-point win for the title.
“We had our opportunities in the second half, but we missed some easy shots in the third quarter and then gave up 10 points off their missed free throws — we didn’t box out well,” West Bladen coach Travis Pait said. “We’d seen that zone before, and it’s pretty unorthodox, but we just couldn’t move the ball against it well.
“They are easily the most talented team in the league,” he added. “If you’d said we’d have 20 wins now after losing what we did last season, I’d have been happy. But we still have work to do, and we can still get better.”
That win gives the Dark Horses the conference’s No. 1 seed for the Class 2-A schools with an 18-8 overall record. West Bladen, meanwhile, fell to 20-7 overall and, despite having beat the Dark Horses twice during the regular season, will be the No. 2 Class 2-A team from the conference for the state playoffs.
McDonald led West Bladen with 19 points, while Dent was right behind him with 17 points. Shaquille Johnson contributed nine points for the Knights, while John Bowen and Will Lambeth each scored seven points.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.