Heading into the fourth quarter, Perkins coach Scott McVeigh told his team the first three minutes would be the most important.
The final three ended up being just as crucial.
Clyde (15-6, 8-5) went on an 8-3 run midway through the fourth quarter, but the Pirates (18-3, 13-0) managed to hang on, connecting on 4-of-7 free throws in the final minute to secure a 51-46 win, and clinching the Sandusky Bay Conference title outright.
The Pirates shared the title with Huron a year ago.
“We kept telling them all game long, ‘they still have a run in them,’” McVeigh said of the Fliers. “Especially holding them to two points in the third, we knew they had a run in them and they made it. It’s typical Clyde. Our thought is we were up seven, first three minutes we are either going to let them back in or we are going to kind of deliver that knock out punch. We kind of let them back in.”
The Pirates took a 32-25 lead into the final eight minutes and got five straight points from Nic Williams to make it a 12-point game.
Clyde’s Eric Wiseman scored back-to-back baskets to shave the margin to eight points, but Chase Green’s putback and free throw made it 40-29 with just over five minutes to play.
Zach Rieman scored the next five points for Clyde, sandwiched around two free throws by Williams. The teams traded baskets for the next six points, but Derek Gray was fouled and hit both free throws to make it 47-42 with 1:18 left to play.
Gray got back to the line 13 seconds later and hit both to make it 47-44, but the Fliers were forced to foul, sending the Pirates to the line.
Williams finished with a double-double of 30 points and 11 rebounds.
“We just got lackadaisical with the ball,” McVeigh said of the final quarter. “We forced some turnovers but then we’d give it right back to them. We just got careless with the ball, didn’t cut hard, didn’t screen hard, just careless. They played hard when we didn’t.”
Kyle Lewis added 13 points and seven boards.
“Kyle did a nice job,” McVeigh said. “He’s been doing it for us all year, but especially tonight when there is not a lot of points out there. He did a nice job getting points early for us. He showed his leadership a lot tonight, gathering the younger kids when things got tight. He said 'hey, settle down, we’re alright.'”
The Pirates, who shot 31 percent from the field Wednesday, used a stingy defensive performance in the third quarter that gave them some cushion heading into the fourth. Clyde went just 1-of-4 from the field in the third.
“You are going to have bad offensive nights and you have to rely on your defense to carry you through,” McVeigh said. “To me, the turning point in that game, and what won us that game, was the third quarter. Defensively, we did a nice job of switching from man to zone. We buckled down and we held a very good team to two points in one quarter. To me that is what won us that game.”
Gray finished with 11 points, three steals and seven rebounds for Clyde, while Wiseman added 11 points, eight of which came in the final quarter, five rebounds and a steal.
“Our effort and energy was pretty good, they just made a few more plays than we did down the stretch,” Clyde coach Ryan Carter said. “In that fourth quarter we were able to get some turnovers, but we couldn’t get the key stop or rebound when we needed too.
“We wanted to attack the basket because we were down and standing around the perimeter shooting three’s doesn’t always help you,” Carter added. “You have to attack and get to the free throw line. We were able to do that 18 times tonight, but it wasn’t enough.”
The Pirates went 21-of-36 from the charity stripe, while Clyde went 14-of-18.
“I thought for the most part we played pretty well the entire game,” Carter said. “We couldn’t score in the third quarter. We had a stretch where we turned the basketball over. A lot of that is what they do. They are a good basketball team.
“We’re trying to put things together at the end of the season and hopefully we took a step in the right direction. It doesn’t get any easier for us.”
The Fliers travel to Huron Friday for their final regular season game.
The SBC champs also have a conference game left, at the Den Friday night to face St. Mary Central Catholic for a final time. The Pirates beat SMCC 64-62 on Jan. 10.
“These guys are happy, but they are not satisfied,” McVeigh said. “I give all the credit to them. They are unselfish on both ends of the floor. When you have a group of kids that are as unselfish as they are, you can do some things and you can cut down some nets. We want to finish out strong at St. Mary’s, which will be a great atmosphere.”