CLAY CITY —
Blake Cesinger felt like a proud parent Saturday night — but it’s not a feeling he wants to repeat this weekend.
A pretty safe bet to be named his high school basketball team’s most valuable player — he leads Clay City in points, rebounds, assists and steals, to name a few statistics — when the season is over, the Eels’ lone senior suffered a concussion Friday night in a sectional semifinal game against Shakamak.
His frightening tumble onto his head, caused when a Laker player went up to shoot as Cesinger was flying through the air from behind trying to block the shot, could have been the defining moment in the Clay City season.
Maybe it was, in fact.
Some of the younger players had tears in their eyes as they watched their leader lying unconscious on the floor, coach Vance Edmondson recalled this week. But when Logan Cesinger, Blake’s younger brother, was asked what was going to happen next, he answered, “We’re going to win.”
“It would’ve been easy for [the Eels] to roll over,” Edmondson said, since Clay City was behind with 2:19 to play when Blake Cesinger was injured. “But when the rest of the boys heard Logan have that kind of confidence, it was just a matter of finishing [the game].”
Sophomore Evan Rogers hit a big 3-pointer to tie the score. Trevor Singer, another sophomore, tied it again. Easton Booe, a sophomore who had replaced Blake Cesinger in the lineup, tied it for a third time, then broke the tie with the game-winning basket with 4.8 seconds left.
Blake Cesinger didn’t get to see the ending of that game; he was on his way to Greene County Hospital at the time. Doctors told him if he felt well enough, however, he could attend the championship game against White River Valley the following night — which he did — with one caution: he was supposed to avoid excitement.
Good luck with that.
“It was hard [not to get excited],” Blake said earlier this week after watching his young teammates outlast the Wolverines 44-42 in another nail-biter. “I felt like a coach and a parent.”
Those two victories probably wouldn’t have happened early in the season, when Blake Cesinger was the only Clay City player with any real varsity experience. “A lot of [the younger Eels] were nervous,” Blake said. “I let everybody know what their role is, and told them to try to win the ballgame … coach Edmondson [told them] ‘play like you’re a senior.’ ”
As the season went along, the younger Eels took those words to heart — and Blake Cesinger’s scoring average came down.
“I shot a lot [early in the season],” Blake said this week, “but that’s dropped a lot. I trust the other shooters and I trust the big men down low being able to catch and finish.”
“He’s a really good teammate,” Edmondson said. “He could get 20 or 25 [points] a night but he trusts these guys [thus the five or six assists per game]. He makes everybody better … they give him confidence, and he gave them confidence.”
As a result the frightenly young Eels — other starters are sophomores Logan Cesinger, Rogers and Singer along with burly junior center Josh Miller; key reserves include Booe, junior Steven Phillips and sophomores Kurtis Yocum and Paiden Myers; and sophomore Parker Ames and freshmen Noah Denker and Hunter Wolfe are ready to help too — may have arrived earlier than expected.
Don’t tell them that, though. They have a regional to win this Saturday at Martinsville.
“I don’t think people expected us to win 15 games [the most of the four teams in the regional field] or a sectional because of our [lack of] experience,” Edmondson admitted. “But we have 12 guys who bought in, who don’t take any plays off, and sometimes you can get by on guts and hard work.”
“I don’t look at team’s records,” Blake said. “It just goes by who hustles more; that determines who wins ballgames.”
Blake Cesinger was evaluated day by day this week and had been making progress in his attempt to come back to play at the regional. As he waited clearance to participate at the regional — which wasn’t guaranteed yet on Thursday — he continued to sound like the proud coach or parent.
“At practices I push them pretty hard,” he said. “I told them before [the White River Valley] game to play like I was out there.
“The underclassmen are all doing great. They’ll get better at their games … and be amazing to watch [in future seasons].”
It’s the immediate future that concerns all the Eels right now, of course.
“Not only did they have a sectional title to play for [last weekend], but they did not want Blake’s last game to be the one where he was carried off the floor,” Edmondson said.