Dragons start month with six wins and Region berth
After a 75-73 win over Powell last Monday, the Dragons ended the regular season on a four-game win-streak and entered the District-3AAA Tournament as the fifth seed.
After defeating Halls in the first round and Powell, for a second time in a week, in the quarterfinals, it is official—Clinton (18-13) is playing their best basketball of the season and doing so at the perfect time.
Those who have seen the Clinton High School Dragons play this season know how athletic they are. However, if you look at their season on paper, you’ll see a team which went 2-6 in the month of January.
The Dragons’ response — six straight wins. Clinton’s inevitable top-four District 3-AAA Tournament finish means that the Dragons have qualified for the Region 2-AAA Tournament. “They’re playing pretty well together right now,” said Clinton Head Coach Chris Lockard about his team’s recent form.
In the first round of the District 3-AAA Tournament, Clinton faced the eighth-seeded Halls High School Red Devils. Halls struggled all season, but would test the Dragons Wednesday night. However, it would be a Clinton 19-4 fourth quarter run that propel the Dragons to a 71-59 win over the Red Devils.
In the first half, Clinton struggled to hit shots. Because of that, the Red Devils were able to hang around. Clinton held a 13-12 lead heading into the second quarter, but Halls would take a 30-29 advantage into the halftime break. In the first half, the Dragons only hit 8-of-24 attempts from the floor, for 33-percent shooting. Yet, Clinton would improve in the second stanza.
Five different Dragons would contribute to a 23-point third quarter, and the Red Devils’ one-point lead coming into the quarter quickly turned into a nine-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter. With a 52-43 lead, Clinton looked to put the game out of reach, and they would do so.
Freshman sharpshooter Jackson Garner would hit two triples and go five-of-six from the charity stripe, for 11 fourth quarter points.
Junior point guard Evan Winchester added seven fourth quarter points, and the Dragons would advance to the District 3-AAA Quarterfinals.
Clinton was led by Winchester, who would lead all scorers with a game-high 25 points, and Garner would follow with 18 points. Chase Lockard would also hit the double-digit mark and finished with 11 points for the Dragons.
The win over Halls set Clinton up with a quarterfinal bout with the three-seed—the Panthers of Powell High School.
This Friday night elite eight matchup was an interesting one, because the two schools met at Powell for the regular season finale just four days prior.
In that game on Monday, Clinton would escape with a hard-earned two-point win. However, Friday night’s game carried a lot more weight, as it was an elimination game.
The Dragons were ready for the rematch. Clinton came to play and opened the game on a 12-2 run. The Dragons held a 17-6 lead late in the quarter, which would be the largest lead of the game held by either team. Behind Evan Winchester’s 11 first quarter points, the Dragons led 17-9 heading into the second quarter. Clinton shot 62-percent from the floor and hit six-of-eight free throw attempts in the quarter.
In the second quarter, the Dragons would hurt the Panthers from range. 12 of Clinton’s 15 second quarter points would come from behind the arc.
Jackson Garner and fellow three-point specialist Chase Lockard would both hit a pair treys. Clinton’s first half performance would be one of their best of the year. The Panthers would match Clinton’s 15 points in the quarter, yet, the Dragons went into halftime with a 32-24 advantage.
The third quarter — a completely different story. Evan Winchester had to leave the floor because of illness.
Plus, Clinton went cold shooting the basketball and scored only five points. The Dragons hit one-of-eight attempts from the floor and hit only two-of-six free throw attempts.
Clinton gave the Panthers an opportunity to get back into the ballgame, and the Panthers took advantage of it. Powell roared back to tie the game at 36-36, took momentum, and a 40-37 lead into the fourth quarter.
“I told Evan late in the game, look to create and find who is hot,” said Lockard. Winchester must have listened, because it worked. Trailing Powell 48-42, with just over four minutes left in regulation, Clinton would end the game on a 15-3 run.
As a result of Garner’s 10 points in the fourth, Winchester’s seven points in the quarter, and the junior’s ability to be smart with the basketball, score, or find the open man—the Dragons would upset Powell, 57-51, and advance to the District 3-AAA Tournament Semifinals. Also, with the over the Panthers, Clinton clinched a spot in the Region 2-AAA Tournament.
Freshman guard Jackson Garner would lead Clinton in scoring against the Panthers, finishing with 20 points and hitting five-of-seven attempts from beyond the arc. Evan Winchester followed closely with 18 points. Additionally, Winchester pulled down six rebounds, dished out five assists, and had one block.
“Evan was good, I mean, he was just flat out good,” said Lockard about his junior point guard.
“He scored when he needed to score, he passed it when he needed to pass it, he rebounded and defended his tail off. Players make plays, and he did,” said Lockard.
“To watch him do what he did, even though he was sick, it was unbelievable,” Lockard added.
This past Monday, the Dragons faced top-seeded Oak Ridge High School, but the results of that contest were not available by press time.
The winner of that contest moves on to the District 3-AAA Tournament Championship game and will face the winner of the Karns/Central Semifinal game, Wednesday at 7:30, at Karns High School.
The losers of the semifinal contests will meet in the consolation game, which will tipoff on Wednesday at 6 p.m.
“I’m excited. This is why you lace ‘em up and play,” said Lockard.