Clay coach Rob Belegrin’s dilemma will be how to score points when facing the
undefeated and state ranked Central Catholic Irish this Friday in the Sullivan Center.
The Irish (7-0) have held two teams to under 30 points — St. Francis DeSales and Northview.
“They are very athletic, and they are stingy on defense,” Belegrin said. “That’s the athletic prowess and that’s a good coach teaching them to be at the right spot at the right time.”
“We have to patient,” Belegrin continued. “No. 1, we have to be strong with the basketball. They are going to be physical, they are going to bump you off balls, they are going to do certain things against you — chest cutters, and they are going to be very physical and if we go in there and not be ready to be physical, then we’re not going to put it in the hole very much.
“But I think we’ll be ready and I think the kids will respond,” Belegrin added. “I think that Central has to score off their defense quite a bit, too. I think that’s how good teams are — they get points off their defense and are able to execute offensively.”
“You’re always going to get a tough group of kids from Central Catholic. You mix all three of them (athleticism, physical play, tough athletes) together and you are going to have a tough night on the offensive end.”
Central’s 37-28 victory over St. Francis was a high strung, physical, and exciting game, Belegrin says, despite the low score.
“That was an epic battle challenge right there — St. Francis and Central. Two good teams, two well-coached teams, two patient teams,” Belegrin said.
No one has scored more than 50 points against the Irish. Other Central victories have came over George Westinghouse 57-41 in the NWOPrepSports.com showcase, against Waite 54-46, Whitmer 60-50, Eastwood 56-49, Northview 55-28, and Genoa 51-33.
The Irish are led by former Owens Community College and Lake coach Jim Welling.
“He’s back to where he needs to be coaching athletes again. They are pretty darn good and I see they are ranked in the state poll,” Belegrin said.
Clay is 3-4, but opened losing four of its first five games. After defeating Fremont Ross 52-49, the Eagles lost four straight to St. John’s Jesuit 73-42, Libbey 68-51, Springfield 58-42, and Perrysburg 74-49.
Things went well for Clay Jan. 8-9, defeating Woodward 61-45 and Anthony Wayne 58-40. The Eagle defense is also shining, as AW had put as many as 90 points on opponents this season. Against AW, Clay held the Generals to 10 points in the first half, which Belegrin said “was really great.”
“We had a good weekend,” Belegrin said. “I’ll tell you what, we came out and we made a couple adjustments to our line-up to try and free up some space inside a little bit. We went with one post player, really, picked up our defensive intensity quite a bit and we had a really good weekend. We just took both teams out of their game — Woodward and Anthony Wayne.”
Welling said his scouts saw that Clay-AW game, so they know to some degree what they are in for.
Clay’s varsity roster consists almost entirely of last year’s junior varsity, as nearly all of last year’s varsity graduated. Belegrin, a Clay grad, is in his first year as head coach, replacing Joe Guerrero.
No one on Clay’s team is averaging in double figures scoring, but 6-6 junior forward Doug Waldmannstetter is among CL leaders in rebounding, averaging 7.2.
“They are young and they were a senior-laden team (last year),” Welling said. “I think that anytime you have a coaching change, there’s going to be inspiration for players to play harder under new leadership. From what I understand, these kids are playing extremely hard. It’s kind of learning on the job even when you have a young roster.”
The advantage for Clay is that the Irish have two big games on the road this week before facing Clay.
“That’s (Clay) a game next Friday night, and we’ve got Southview and St. John’s in between,” Welling said. “So, for us this is a great challenge to have St. John’s on the road, Southview on the road and then to lead into Clay — another big conference game.
“Our goal is still to continue to get better, probably just like Clay’s (goal),” Welling continued. “We have a young team, they have a young team so it should be a good match-up for people to come out and see.”