Tyler Hart, Contributor
GREENFIELD — The top spot in the Frontier Athletic Conference, for now, belongs to the McClain Tigers.
McClain (5-1, 4-1 FAC) grabbed sole possession of the FAC’s title race lead halfway through its conference slate with a 49-41 win over Hillsboro on Saturday evening, using a strong second half defensive effort to seal the deal.
“Defense is what kept us in it,” McClain senior Bryson Badgley said. “Towards the end of the first half, we started making our shots, which got us going. It gave us a five-point lead at half and we got more into it. And we outrebounded them in the first half, which helped a ton.”
The opening quarter displayed a ton of physicality and grit by both squads, which limited the scoring opportunities. Both teams managed to throw up a barrage of shots, but couldn’t find a way to string successful field goal tries together.
Badgley and Kendyll Toney led the charge for McClain early, pacing the way to a 6-5 advantage heading into the second.
Hillsboro senior guard Ethan Parry then found his form behind the 3-point arc within the next eight minutes, which helped the Indians (4-3, 3-2 FAC) take an 18-16 lead to force a McClain timeout with 2:28 to play in the half.
But, as Badgley alluded to, a late run allowed his Tigers to erase the deficit.
McClain finished the first half on a 8-0 run, led by Badgley and Evann Mischal, who both dialed long distance in the closing two minutes. Heading into the break, McClain had a 23-18 edge.
“We were just getting into our sets and making sure we were executing well,” Toney said. “We tried to find guys open and just moved the ball, really.”
The Tigers continued their scoring efforts in the third, thanks to Badgley, who scored eight points in the quarter while displaying aggression in driving to the rack. Toney also continued to contribute by adding four more points, and was followed by Wesley Potts, who started to find his touch after a slow start.
Hillsboro, on the other hand, countered with defensive pressure of its own while the rebounding and scoring efforts from Quintin Captain kept the score close.
However, only Captain and teammate Hunter Price could find buckets in the third for Hillsboro. McClain, in effect, took a 37-27 advantage into the fourth.
The 3-point arc entered focus again and Parry was again the culprit.
He’d go 3-for-3 at the line before later adding a deep ball with 4:20 to play, trimming the deficit to 42-35. trailing 42-35.
But that was as close as the Indians would get to the Tigers’ lead.
McClain’s Preston Saunders, who kept the offense rolling through most of the game, found his shot when it counted the most. Saunders’ only field goal of the night came after a timeout that interrupted Hillsboro’s scoring run.
That was enough momentum to grind out an eight-point win — an important eight-point win that kept McClain atop the conference standings.
Badgley ended the night with a game-high 22 points while Mischal followed with 10 of his own. Toney had eight points, Potts added four points and Saunders finished with three.
Parry led the Indians with 17 points while Captain was close behind with 16. Hunter Price also helped out, ending the night with eight points.
What’s on tap
The Tigers are back in action on Tuesday, hosting Unioto in a non-league battle. Meanwhile Hillsboro looks to bounce back against those same Shermans, on the road, on Thursday.
“We only get better from here,” Badgley said. “But we have work to do. That’s for sure. We’re not there yet.”