The Cardinals concluded a successful run in the 40th District Tournament with a 55-38 victory over Montgomery County Thursday night at Bourbon County High School, giving Clark its seventh consecutive district title.
The border rivals split two games during the regular season, but Clark has won the last two contests, including the district finale. Both teams advance to next week's 10th Region Tournament at the MCHS Arena in Mount Sterling. Pairings for the tournament will be drawn Saturday morning at Harrison¿County High School.
The Cards (27-5) couldn't miss in the first half and led 28-8 at the break. The Indians (22-10) had a hard time finding the rim and managed just three field goals in the first two quarters and tallied just three points in the second quarter.
“The bigger the game, the better they’re playing,” Clark coach Scott Humphrey said of his squad. “We’ve played in three tournaments so far this year and we’ve won them all. They’re such a mentally-tough group — the most mentally-tough group that I’ve had in my tenure coaching (at Clark and Simon Kenton). They’re mature and they know how to focus and they really came out and played tremendous.”
Montgomery County opened with a 3-pointer by Jake Handshoe, but from then on, it was all Clark. The Cards closed out the quarter with a 19-2 run and led 19-5 at the end of the first quarter.
“We panicked,” Montgomery County coach Tony Wise said afterward. “We took too many quick shots and they play too good of a defense to do that. We dug ourselves a hole way too deep (to get out of). I was disappointed in the fact that we panicked. Things that we talked about we needed to do, we didn’t do. That was very disappointing.”
Clark seniors Taylor Howard and Dominic VanCleve had a big hand in the Cards' impressive showing in the first eight minutes. Howard scored seven points and VanCleve drained two 3-pointers to close out the first frame. VanCleve and Howard paced the Cards with nine points each in the first half.
Howard added 10 more points in the second half and finished with 19 points.
“He had a phenomenal night,” Humphrey said. “He’s so aggressive at the right time and hitting shots. He defended his tail-end off and rebounded outstanding. It was just an incredible night for a kid with zero postseason experience.”
The Cards used timely outside shooting to build a double-digit lead in the opening half. Clark made four-of-seven shots from long range, led by VanCleve who connected on all three attempts from long range in the first two quarters.
Montgomery managed just three field goals and shot just 14 percent in the first half. The Indians scored just three points in the second quarter as Clark increased the margin and led 28-8 at the break. The Indians made their first trey, but missed their next seven to close out the half.
“We got off to a great start and that’s what we needed, but I really think it was our defense that set the tone more than anything,” Howard said. “We were focused the entire night and I thought we played a great game, holding them to eight points in the first half. What more could you ask for?”
Howard scored Clark's first four points of the second half to continue the Cards' impressive showing, giving Clark a 32-8 advantage.
Montgomery closed the gap in the third frame, but Howard scored eight of Clark's 10 points in the quarter to fend off the Indians' surge.
Adam Fatkin tied Howard for team-high scoring honors with 19 points and had a double-double with 11 rebounds. VanCleve rounded out three Clark starters in double figures with 10 points.
Howard said the win was “special” and gives the Cards added confidence going into the next week’s regional tournament.
“We’ve prepped for this all week, but (winning) the region is what we want,” Howard said.
Mont. Co. 05 03 14 16 — 38
Clark 19 09 10 17 — 55
MONTGOMERY (22-10) — Prewitt 14, Crisp 2, Handshoe 14, Fruth 2, Jones 4, Combs 2.
CLARK (27-5) — VanCleve 10, Stenzel 3, Howard 19, Rogers 4, Fatkin 19.