By Kurt Ritzman
Assistant Sports Editor
Clinton trailed Davenport North by two points with 10 seconds left in the championship game of the River City Classic on Saturday afternoon, but sophomore Brady Ernst came to the River Kings’ rescue.
Ernst grabbed an offensive rebound, scored the putback and was fouled with six seconds left. He made the free throw and North’s last-second shot was off, giving Clinton the title with a 72-71 victory.
“Tyler (Thacker) drove baseline and threw it up,” Ernst said. “I was lucky to be in the right spot at the right time, finish it and knock down the free throw.
“I was a little nervous, but big players step up at big times. I just knocked it down for my team.”
The game was back and forth throughout. Davenport North took a four-point lead with two minutes to play when Blain Samuelson hit a 3-pointer and the Wildcats led by three with less than a minute to play. The River Kings lost several close games last year during a 1-21 season, so pulling out a victory was a big step in the right direction for the program.
“We had to stay confident and know we could pull it out,” Clinton junior Jalen Jones said.
“I think a lot of the difference is just the mentality of the guys,” Clinton coach Nick Lawrence said. “We had a lot of success over the summer. They tasted it. They knew what it felt like. We were in these situations in the summer where we had to pull out wins, playing from behind.”
Clinton trailed by three points entering the fourth quarter and outscored North 22-18 to pull out the win. Lawrence said it was a full team effort, but the key might have been defense.
After Samuelson — who was selected to the all-tournament team — made his 3-pointer, North did not score for 1:17. Ernst made a free throw and then Javontez Washington dished one of his team-high six assists to Thacker to cut the deficit to one.
“Fortunately, we had a multitude of guys step up and make big plays down the stretch,” Lawrence said. “Jalen scored a lot and carried us from a scoring standpoint. But you can point to any one of four or five guys that made huge plays. Brady Ernst made some big buckets down the stretch. Justin Michel made some big plays. Jon Cady did an excellent job defensively in the second half. Tyler Thacker made some big shots. JJ Washington played a really nice floor game.”
Jones scored three of his game-high 33 points in the final minute to set up Ernst’s heroics.
The best play of the night put Clinton ahead 43-38 midway through the third quarter and it featured Jones and Ernst, both of whom made the all-tournament team.
Jones drove to the basket along the baseline and threw a behind-the-back pass to Ernst who was running down the lane. Ernst caught the pass and slammed it home for his second dunk of the quarter.
“I feel like we have good chemistry,” Ernst said.
“I saw him out of the corner of my eye,” Jones said. “I wasn’t really expecting to do it. Instinct just took over.”
Jones and Ernst combined for 50 points and 28 rebounds, with both having double-doubles.
North was largely kept in the game by DeMarcus Davis, who was selected to the all-tournament team. Davis led the Wildcats with 27 points, seven rebounds and six steals.
Clinton now has something it hasn’t for more than two years — a winning streak.
“It feels good, but we’ve still got to get better,” Ernst said. “We have two tough games next week. We’ve got to work hard in practice and get ready for those games and keep the winning streak going.”
CLINTON 72, DAVENPORT NORTH 71
DAVENPORT NORTH (1-1) — Blain Samuelson 6-12 0-1 15, Connor Moellenbeck 2-8 0-0 5, Jacob TeBrake 2-7 0-3 4, DeMarcus Davis 8-15 10-18 27, Cordre Mack 3-5 0-0 6, Shawn Butler 3-4 0-1 6, Robert Wolf 0-0 0-0 0, Jayden Clayton 3-3 2-2 8, Corey Iossi 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-54 10-23 71.
CLINTON (2-1) — Tyler Thacker 4-8 0-0 8, Javontez Washington 0-4 0-0 0, Jalen Jones 9-14 11-15 33, Justin Michel 4-7 4-7 12, Brady Ernst 5-8 6-13 17, Jacob Judd 0-0 0-0 0, Jon Cady 1-2 0-0 2, Ashley Jones 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-43 21-35 72.
North 15 16 22 18 — 71
Clinton 14 20 16 22 — 72
3-point goals — North 7-17 (Samuelson 3-5, Clayton 2-2, Moellenbeck 1-4, Davis 1-5, TeBrake 0-1); Clinton 5-10 (J. Jones 4-6, Ernst 1-2, Washington 0-1, Thacker 0-1). Total fouls — North 20; Clinton 19. Fouled out — TeBrake. Technical foul — North bench. Rebounds — North 27 (Davis 7, TeBrake 5); Clinton 46 (J. Jones 15, Ernst 13). Assists — North 15 (Moellenbeck 7); Clinton 16 (Washington 6, J. Jones 3, Ernst 3). Steals — North 9 (Davis 6); Clinton 3 (Washington, J. Jones, Michel). Blocks — Clinton 4 (Ernst 3, J. Jones). Turnovers — North 10; Clinton 17.