BARTRAM TRAIL - A tough opener turned out to a be a test of wills for the Clay High boys basketball team despite a 41-35 loss to the 8A-Bartram Trail in the season's first outing.
"My challenge to them was to match them team wise; Bartram Trail plays a great five man team philosophy," said Clay High coach Jared Moses. "Tre Griner is a returner for us with Dylan Griffin expected to be a strong addition. We have a Mississippi transfer in Brandon Peavy who brings a strong presence to the team. This group may take some time to gel together because they are coming from all over; jv, Palatka, Mississippi."
Against Bartram Trail, after preseason losses to Georgia powers Camden County and Brunswick high schools at Nease High School, Moses was hoping to see what kind of team was going to come to face off a traditionally strong Bartram Trail program.
"They have a great program here (at Bartram Trail) and they are a bigger school," said Moses. "I want to see what kind of fight we have."
Newcomers to the team will be Valdez Seymour, Jaylin Copeland and transfer from Keystone Heights, Shawn Dukes, a 6'-6" center with a minor ankle issue. Jarvis Lee comes to us from Palatka as well."
From the opening whistle, with Griffin flying around the court disrupting the Bears' attack, Clay fought off a quick 9-1 Bartram Trail lead to get the score tied at 9-9 with Griner nailing a three-pointer to open the second quarter and fueling an eight point run. A steal off a full court press defense from Griner led to a baseline to baseline run and a layup with Peavy drawing an offensive charge on Bartram Trail's 6'-7" center Alijah Kuehl, brother to Bartram Trail standout volleyball middle hitter Alexia Kuehl, also 6'-6" and now at the University of Colorado.
Down 9-5, Peavy came right back down the court after his charge call and put in a layup to 9-7 off an assist from D'Maurion Frazier. The final bucket that tied the score came on a Jack Hatfield jumper with Hatfield driving baseline to put Clay up 11-9.
"Jack had a brother that played for us a couple of years ago," said Moses.
Clay continued with the battle to go into the lockers up 16-14 at the half with Griner feeding Peavy for a layup and then ending the half with a three pointer.
In the third quarter, Griffin opened with a steal to layup run and an offensive rebound to layup that got a foul to push the Blue Devil lead to 20-16.
Another offensive charge on a deft play by Griffin kept Clay on the attack with Bartram Trail seemingly unable to puncture the Blue Devil perimeter defense as forward Valdez Seymour started to exert some muscle under the backboard including a nifty left handed layup to score the game 26-22 with three minutes to go in the third period.
Griner and Hatfield both scored to end the third at 30-22.
In the final stanza, Bartram Trail's big game experience started to emerge as the Bears up front defense started causing hurried mistakes by Clay.
Three passing errors gave Bartram Trail quick scores and a 32-30 lead at the five minute mark.
Griner stepped out of bounds on a baseline drive and Copeland was stripped of the ball on a dribble at half court as Bartram Trail pushed to a 39-35 lead before ending the game at 41-35 with two free throws.
Clay's next three games are Orange Park (Mon., Dec. 2), Middleburg (Fri., Dec. 6) and Oakleaf (Tues., Dec. 10).