CLINTON — It’s never easy to have a losing season, but it’s even harder when it’s your last. That’s where the Clinton High senior basketball players are right now, heading into the first round of postseason with a record of 2-19.
“It’s a lot of pressure,” senior Louis Harris said. “We’re not getting very many wins so we’re just trying to stay tough out there, play with everything and do everything Coach wanted us to do. We’re just following his lead.”
The River Kings picked up two wins against Burlington this year, but have yet to beat another team. Still, something Head Coach Chris Powers has always said is that his team knows how to fight.
“No matter what the score is we work hard, try hard, try our best,” senior Ty McGruder said.
That’s the exact quality the team takes pride in. Just ask senior Brennen Lemke: What can people learn from your senior players?
“Playing hard,” Lemke said. “We don’t give up when we’re down 40, 50 or 10. We’re going to play hard and we’re going to work.”
With just the two Ws, the River Kings are very aware they won’t be setting any records or winning any conferences. What the focus has shifted to is leaving their mark.
“We’re just trying to change the culture for the younger guys and help them have a good season next year, help them get better so they don’t have to go through that,” Lemke said.
“We just want to help the younger generation. It’s a cool thing to have them watch us and see us get better, and then we see them get better every day,” senior Ricky Clay said.
The fight from the Clinton seniors comes in many forms. It could be the fourth quarter three from Brennen Lemke, or the fight for post position on the block from Louis Harris. It is the fast breaks from the speedy Ty McGruder and the big boards from Jared Simpson. It’s the post moves from big man in the middle Ricky Clay and it’s the support that players Camden Pennock and Hunter Brashaw show their teammates.
“We just keep working hard,” Lemke said. “We come in every day, we work hard and try to make the younger kids better. That’s how it all starts. Once they start seeing that, it’s going to move down to the freshman and sophomores. Then you’re going to start seeing it there and it’s going to continue.”
That’s a sentiment reiterated by the entire team.
“We try to be role models for them. I think they’ll be better next year, there are some good underclassman coming through,” McGruder said.
“We’re close. They would learn team work from us, we work together,” Clay said.
They still have a chance to show that. On Monday, they will face Davenport West in the first round of the Class 4A postseason. The River Kings have met up with the Falcons twice this year.
“It’s hard to beat a team three times. I think we can get them, every game we’ve played them we’ve been close,” Clay said.
The first time the Kings met them, they lost 49-48 on a buzzer beater at Davenport West. The next time was a 45-35 loss—a score that doesn’t show how close the game actually was.
The team is also aware of their weak spot: the third quarter. In many games, including their most recent loss to North Scott, the third quarter is where the game is blown open.
“Third quarter has been kicking out butt, every game,” Lemke said. “We’re going to try playing for that on Monday and get started hot there in the third quarter.”
And for the group of seven seniors, every game from here on out could be their last. It makes it that much more important to the River Kings to keep doing what they do best: work hard.
With that, anything could happen.
“It’s tough. It’s our last year, we just want to finish hard,” McGruder said. “When Monday comes, everybody is 0-0 so we have to play hard.”