A few free throws here and there, a clutch bucket there with some defensive stops or two sprinkled in, and Clay’s boys basketball team could be staring at a 7-9 record with six regular-season games remaining.
Last Friday’s Three Rivers Athletic Conference game against visiting St. Francis de Sales, however, encapsulated much of the Eagles’ season. The Knights won 53-52 to sweep the two-game season series against Clay (2-14, 0-9), which lost the first meeting 52-47 in December.
“We’re in every game, but you have to close,” Clay coach Rob Belegrin said. “It’s tough. Our defense has been a lot better this year, but our free throw shooting has not been good. The guys on our team, they’re good players, but they’ve never won. We play good basketball, but we don’t sustain it for 32 minutes.”
|Clay senior forward Anthony
Ramirez. (Press photo by Russ
Pat Booth, a 6-foot-1 senior guard, was the leading scorer (16.4 ppg.) on last year’s team, which finished 1-20. Booth, who is averaging a team-high 14.8 points and four rebounds a game this season, said the Eagles’ record doesn’t show their improvement from last season.
“Over the last couple years we haven’t had that many wins and we don’t know how to handle those situations,” he said. “A lot of games we’d compete and lead near the end and we either turn it over or misread on defense, and that can cause one big play. Friday night (against St. Francis), it was turnovers. We’re competing against teams we should beat, and record-wise it doesn’t show it.”
Clay has lost six games – to St. Francis twice, Fremont Ross, Lima Senior , Whitmer and Rossford – by five points or less. Even the Eagles’ victories, 66-61 over Waite and 66-59 over Northview, were nail-biters.
“We’re right there,” said 6-2 senior forward Anthony Ramirez, who scored a team-high 19 points last Friday. “We just have crucial turnovers at crucial times. We’re in there the whole game, and at times we can’t turn it over. The mentality is, nobody really knows how to win. We’ve been there in football, too, where we don’t really know how to close stuff out.”
Ramirez has been a big addition to this year’s team. He played in just four games last season but quit the team because, he said, of disagreements with the coaching staff. This season he scored a career-high 28 points against Rossford and is averaging 13.8 points and 5.1 rebounds.
Booth and Ramirez average nearly 29 points combined for a team that averages just 48.6 points a game.
“They have a nice two-man game going,” Belegrin said. “Those two guys are having nice seasons. Anthony is our No. 1 option and Pat plays off him pretty well. It’s helped Pat out tremendously this year. Anthony is our most physical player. He takes it to the hole with physicality.”
Ramirez said he came back to the team this season because “it was my last year with all my friends and I wasn’t going to let something little like that affect it.” Booth said he and Ramirez talked “a lot” in the offseason about Ramirez coming back.
“This could be a lot worse without him,” said Booth, a two-time second team All-TRAC selection. “He’s a good player and a nice teammate to have. He makes it easier on me this year because he takes some of the burden off me to score. He has a nose for the game and he knows how to read defenses. A lot of our offense goes through me and him.”
Ramirez said that, despite being Clay’s No. 1 scoring option, he’s more than happy to share the ball with Booth.
“Me and Pat played a lot in the offseason,” Ramirez said. “We’ve always had that chemistry in pickup games and stuff. When Pat’s feeling it, I don’t try to take my shots. I try to get him the ball to score.”
Belegrin said Ramirez’s presence in the post has enabled Booth to be more selective on his shots. Booth isn’t shooting as much as last season, but a lot of that is due to the fact that opponents are devising defenses to limit his options.
“The physical teams - Findlay, Central, St. John’s - they beat him up,” Belegrin said. “They hold him, grab him and physically beat him up. He’s had his worst games against those teams. He is shooting a good percentage, and I’m proud of him that he’s having a solid season.”
Said Booth, “Most teams know I’m the leading score from last year, so I’m getting guarded harder. Sometimes I have to adjust to the physical play more. As the season goes on, I think I’m getting used to it and playing around it.”