Clay found itself down to mostly sophomores and freshmen on the floor in the waning moments of its first-round contest in the River East tournament last night.
So the Eagles relied on their senior, Wes Taylor. And Taylor delivered, nearly posting a triple-double in a 59-58 victory over Waite in Rossford's Wolfe Field House.
The 6-7 senior finished with a game-high 30 points and added 13 rebounds and eight blocks as the Eagles advanced to tonight's championship contest against Rossford, which beat Cardinal Stritch 61-56 in the second game.
"Wes Taylor was amazing - I am so proud of him," Clay coach Joe Guerrero said. "He stepped up for us. We needed him to take over the game because we were young and a little hesitant, and he did a great job of doing that."
Taylor was especially big in the game's final moments. He blocked a pair of Indians shots in the final 45 seconds, then rebounded a missed Clay free throw and scored the winning points with 21 seconds to play.
"Wes is just a phenomenal athlete," Waite coach Dave Pitsenbarger said. "He's going to get 30 a night - maybe not every night, but it will be hard to keep him from getting 30."
Taylor's sophomore brother, Zach, added 10 for the Eagles, who improved to 3-3 on the season.
Waite got 14 points from Darren White-Owens, 12 from Troy Murphy and 11 from Mark Wortham in dropping to 3-3.
Wes Taylor scored nine points in the second quarter as Clay took a 29-17 lead at the half, and his basket with 15 seconds left in the third quarter gave the Eagles a 40-32 lead heading into the fourth.
But in that final period the Indians' suffocating full-court pressure, which caused 13 Clay turnovers in the first three periods, fueled a 9-0 run to start the quarter and gave Waite a 41-40 lead with 6:23 left.
"We tried to get our offense flowing from our defense, and we tried to get the ball inside a little more," Pitsenbarger said.
After that the two teams exchanged the lead, with no one leading by more than four. A pair of free throws by White-Owens with 46 seconds left cut Clay's lead to 56-55, but on the next possession Wes Taylor blocked a shot by White-Owens.
Jordan Kovacs was fouled and made his first free throw, but Taylor grabbed the miss of the second and put it in the basket.
Another Taylor block held the Indians at bay until Khari Riley hit a trey at the buzzer for the final margin.
"I was just trying to be a leader out there," Taylor said of his late-game heroics. "I was trying to direct [the younger guys] where to go."
Even though Clay had 10 turnovers in the final quarter alone, Guerrero was pleased with the play of his young players. Brent Graham injured his shoulder late in the first half and played only briefly in the second; he joined juniors Jordan Spetz and A.J. Achter on the sidelines.
Freshman Andrew Kuns and sophomores Kovacs and Zach Taylor played a lot as a result.
"We played freshmen and sophomores, and I thought they did a great job coming in with very limited varsity experience," Guerrero said.
Rossford's Logan Nichols scored 10 points in a 12-2 run that turned a 45-40 deficit into a 52-47 lead for Rossford, which improved to 2-4.
"Logan had a great week in practice for us," Bulldogs coach Brian Vorst said. "He's worked really hard in practice, played stronger and pushed himself to do the things he did tonight. Two weeks ago I'm not sure he could have had a game like this."
Rossford led most of way, but the Cardinals used a 10-2 run in the final 3:23 of the third quarter to cut the Bulldogs' lead to 38-37. Stritch then scored all but two of the first 10 points of the fourth, only to see Rossford rally.
"We talked at halftime about not having 'puppy-dog eyes' when we get down, because that's a problem we have had," Vorst said. "You know good teams like Stritch are going to make a run, but I thought our ability to come back came because we were more mentally tough."
Justin Wagner had 15 points to lead Rossford. Nichols and Tommy Kralovic each scored 14, and Jason Duly had 10.
"We had our opportunities [to win]," Stritch coach Jim Sheehy said. "We forced a couple of 10-second turnovers, we got them to throw the ball away a couple of times, and we got them to walk. But we never did capitalize."
Eric McCloskey had 18 points to lead the Cardinals (5-2).
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