GREEN COVE SPRINGS - Clay High junior forward Valdez Seymour hit two left-handed hooks at timely moments as the Blue Devils won an overtime 64-57 clash with Seacoast Academy to earn a third place finish at the Clay High Christmas Basketball Invitational.
"Valdez stepped up for us with a couple of guys nursing injuries on the bench in this game," said Clay coach Jared Moses. "He is the ultimate team player that stays within his game and just plays solid ball. Those two shots were big for us and will hopefully catapult our season."
Moses, who had just one previous win for the season, noted that Seacoast came into the tournament undefeated and suffered their first loss, a 43-41 game, to Orange Park High in the tournament semifinals. Orange Park lost to Hawthorne 54-25 in the championship game. Hawthorne, unbeaten, beat Clay 55-33 in the opposite semifinal.
"I told the guys at the half that we had to be worthy of being in the third place game," said Moses. "The five main guys are starting to gel together and hopefully this kind of win can get us a better second half."
For Clay's win, Seacoast opened with a halftime lead at 36-28 with Clay guard Tre Griner keeping the Blue Devils within striking distance with aggressive drives through the middle of the Seacoast defense. A three pointer by Seymour put the score at 36-28 at the halftime buzzer.
In the third quarter, it was a Seymour layup and a three pointer from Brandon Peavy that closed the score to 50-40 for Seacoast with Seacoast three 3-pointers in a row to close the stanza.
"Brandon and I wanted to come through with Dylan (Griffin) hurt," said Seymour.
Griner opened the fourth with a 3-pointer and a drive to push Clay to 45 points with Seymour and Griner hitting back-to-back layuprs to 50-49 before Seymour hit a left handed hook to put Clay up 51-50 with 4:28 left in the game.
"He's getting more confidence with that shot," said Moses. "We needed him to add more offense to his game because of our injured guys."
Both teams volleyed from there with Griner driving twice to keep the game at 57-57 as the clock ran out.
In the overtime, Peavy grabbed an offensive rebound, but missed the shot. Peavy sank one of two free throws after the bound to put Clay up 58-57. Peavy answered again a minute later with a three pointer to put Clay up 61-57.
Seymour slid across the lane with his second left handed hook to put Clay up 63-57 with Jarvis Lee hitting a free throw for the final 64-57 score.
In the girls championship game, unbeaten University Christian beat Robert E. Lee with a second half explosion after a tight first half. Andrew Jackson finished third with Oakleaf, after a rugged near-miss against unbeaten Hawthorne, lost to Jackson in their consolation game.
For the boys, University Christian finished third.
For the Raiders against Hawthorne, the Hornets, 10-1, came out storming to a 14-8 first quarter lead and a 27-15 halftime lead before throttling up to the eventual 54-25 win.
"We will go back to out gym and work on our weaknesses," said Orange Park coach Derek Kurnitsky, now 8-2. "They were obviously the better team."