By Jon Gremmels
Herald Sports Editor
FULTON, Ill. —
There wasn’t much time to think how good a three-game winning streak would feel.
Pleasant Valley scored the first seven points Friday night, quickly ending Clinton’s thoughts of a third consecutive Mississippi Athletic Conference win after enduring 36 conference losses in a row. The River Kings got within five points three times in the first period, then never again as they lost 64-42 at WJ Yourd Gymnasium.
“The difference between tonight and West (a comeback win from an early 10-point deficit Tuesday at Davenport West) was we responded Tuesday,” Clinton coach Nick Lawrence said. “We didn’t bring enough energy tonight. We did in the second half, but we had dug ourself too big of a hole.”
With its constant moving and cutting on offense, Pleasant Valley opened the scoring when Conor Bryant banked in a shot from the block with 7 minutes left in the opening quarter. Austin Esters, who led all scorers with 19 points, added a transition basket, then Kain Arthofer (11 points) capped the early run with a 3-pointer from the right side with 4:45 left.
Clinton (4-7, 2-5 MAC) finally scored when Brady Ernst found Jacob Judd cutting to the basket, and the River Kings and Spartans traded baskets with Clinton getting within 7-2, 9-4 on a basket by Jalen Jones and 11-6 on a Judd putback.
But Pleasant Valley’s Noah Bryant scored on a drive for the final points of the first period, and the Spartans opened the second with a turnaround jumper from Will Carius. Ernst scored on an inbounds play to make it 15-8, but Pleasant Valley’s Conor Bryant and Esters sandwiched 3-pointers around one from Clinton’s Jones and the Spartans’ lead was in double digits the rest of the way.
“We talked about what PV does; they play a deliberate style, work well as a team and work the ball, work the ball, work the ball until somebody breaks down,” Lawrence said. “Unfortunately, there were too many breakdowns.
“They’re very disciplined on both ends, and they make you pay.”
Clinton trailed 30-14 at the half and needed the type of strong start it got to open the second half in its past two games to get back into Friday’s contest. Instead, PV (8-2, 5-2) answered an opening basket in the half from Jones (12 points) with 11 consecutive points. The lead reached 20 for the first time on a 3-pointer from Arthofer, then Matt Witcik capped it with another 3-pointer, this one from the top of the key that bounced high above the rim before dropping through.
“Our initial start was good in the second half, but it didn’t last,” Lawrence said. “You could see the life run out of us.”
Lawrence said part of the lackluster play might have come from the effects of the flu that has affected the team. One player, Jon Cady, was unable to play because of the illness.
“We missed Jon a lot,” Lawrence said. “He’s not one of our leading scorers or rebounders, but he is a high-energy guy, and we could have used that on a night like this.”
Lawrence did have praise for one player: senior Jacob Judd, who had his second consecutive 10-point game.
“Jacob had another nice game,” Lawrence said.
Clinton now has a week off before returning to action next Friday in the second half of a girls-boys doubleheader with North Scott at Yourd Gymnasium. Lawrence said the break should help.
“I thought the timing of Christmas break was good, and we kind of have the same situation now,” Lawrence said. “I’m glad the bye week is coming when it is.
“Our challenge is to step up and take some pride. We’ve got to fight to the end.”
PLEASANT VALLEY 64, CLINTON 42
PLEASANT VALLEY (8-2, 5-2) — AJ Smith 0 0-0 0, Chase Kipper 0 0-1 0, Conor Bryant 4 0-0 9, KV Gill 1 0-0 3, Noah Bryant 1 0-0 2, Austin Esters 7 4-5 19, Dylan French 0 0-0 0, Tanner Lafever 1 0-0 2, Matt Witcik 4 0-0 10, Nathaniel Scott 0 0-0 0, Ryan Spelhaug 0 0-0 0, Kain Arthofer 4 1-4 11, Will Carius 3 2-3 8. Totals 25 7-13 64.
CLINTON (4-7, 2-5) — Rodney Witherspoon 0 0-0 0, Tyler Thacker 2 0-0 5, Zach Pope 0 0-0 0, Derrick Howard 2 0-2 4, Jalen Jones 5 0-0 12, Ben Rowan 0 0-0 0, Brady Ernst 1 2-4 4, Austin Reyhons 0 0-0 0, Thomas Smith 1 0-0 2, Jacob Judd 5 0-0 10, Justin Michel 2 1-4 5. Totals 18 3-7 42.
Pleasant Valley 13 17 17 17 — 64
Clinton 6 8 15 13 — 42
3-point goals — Pleasant Valley 7 (Witcik 2, Arthofer 2, C. Bryant, Gill, N. Bryant, Esters); Clinton 3 (Jones 2, Thacker). Total fouls — Pleasant Valley13, Clinton 15. Fouled out — None.