Yeo, Trojans get set for regionals Saturday

BOURBON — It’s an old sports cliche that big time players make big time plays. But sometimes big time plays make big time players.
Or at least they bring out the best in those players.
Clay Yeo has been a consistent scoring and rebounding threat for Triton throughout the season, averaging nearly 27 points and better than eight caroms a game. But it’s when the game is on the line and the Trojans need him most that the smooth 6-6 junior forward has really shined.
He scored 22 of his team’s final 24 points as Triton held off a tenacious New Prairie squad in the Bi-County championship game back on Jan. 23, and at Saturday’s Sectional 51championship against Marquette Catholic, he notched a game-high 30 points, including the game-winning go-ahead bucket with seven seconds on the clock to seal the Trojans a fifth-straight sectional title.
“Down the stretch when games are tight, my teammates trust me to put the ball in the basket. Give them credit for giving me the opportunity to make big plays in those situations,” Yeo said.
“He’s a great player when he plays focused and determined. I keep telling him he needs to play like he’s the best player on the floor because he usually is,” said Triton head coach Jason Groves. “I think he kind of took that to heart in the sectional championship game and really stepped up. I think part of it is Clay enjoys those big moments. He’s been playing a lot of basketball for us, and it’s almost like he’s played so much that some of the games that don’t mean as much, he kind of gets bored with it a little bit. But when the game’s on the line and he has that look in his eyes like he did Saturday night, it’s nice to see. He wants the ball and wants to be that man. That’s where it’s got to start first is his mental approach. He’s got to want to be that man, and when he wants to be that man he can be. It’s nice to have a guy like that on your team, so hopefully he’ll keep that where he wants to do that the rest of the tournament.”
It’s been a special season for Yeo, who broke the 1,000-point barrier in the Bi-County championships and set a new single-season scoring mark for the program in Triton’s sectional-opening win over Oregon-Davis Feb. 28.
“Obviously it’s great to break that record. It’s been set for a long time,” he said. “I really am enjoying myself this season. It’s been really fun with the guys. I have great teammates and I give them so much credit for the way that I’m scoring. It’s been a fun run.”
The Trojans (19-5) are hoping that run isn’t over yet as they take on Kouts (19-3) in the second game Saturday at the Triton Regional slated for 12:30 p.m. following the early semifinal between Fort Wayne Canterbury (17-6) and Pioneer (19-5) scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at The Trojan Trench.
“The regional is tough. It’s the only time all season where you play two games in one day, so it’s going to be tough to get out of here. We’ve got four really good teams and well-coached teams,” said Groves. “Kouts, they’re excellent shooters, they shoot the ball extremely well, and they’ll shoot it from anywhere and they shoot it a lot, so we’ve got to be able to contest their shooters and get out and get a hand up and at the same time rebound as well.”
“The other two teams are great teams as well,” he continued. “Canterbury has a line-up that will be really hard to match up with. They have a lot of guys who can do things off the dribble, from the three-point line, so they kind of spread you out and kind of try and open you up a little bit and get penetration. Pioneer, same thing, their offense is a little bit like the Plymouth style where they’re setting a lot of double staggered screens and getting shooters open. They have some big, strong kids inside, so they’re going to be a load too. This field is really interesting.”
While Yeo has often carried the Trojans this season, Triton has seen dependable role play from several of its players on its way to a fifth-straight sectional championship.
Point guard Zak Shively has come on strong in the last few weeks to help guide the Trojans offense. The 6-foot senior said the turning point for him came on Triton’s Senior Night game with Knox Feb. 24.
“Senior Night I kind of went in thinking ‘It’s my Senior Night, I’m going to shoot more.’ I played well and after that I just kind of kept playing more aggressive,” he said.
“I’ve just started trying to get to the hoop more. I’m just realizing the season’s coming to an end, trying to make the most out of it.”
While Shively’s more aggressive style has helped bolster his play, Groves said he’s playing smarter, too.
“I just think he’s making better decisions. His assist-to-turnover ratio has been really good the last few games. He’s being aggressive, but he’s making good decisions when he’s being aggressive; that’s the key,” said the Triton skipper. “I want all our kids to be aggressive, but if they can’t make good decisions while they’re being aggressive, I’d rather they not be aggressive. I think Zak has just gotten steadily better as the year’s gone on and he’s playing really good basketball right now, playing with confidence, and like I said, just making really good decisions, knowing when to shoot, when not to shoot, when to penetrate to the basket to score and when not to. That’s what you want out of your point guard. He’s done a lot of nice things for us, that’s for sure, and that’s been a big part of the reason we’ve been so successful the last part of the season.”
Triton will need both Yeo and Shively at their best as they attempt to advance through a balanced field Saturday. With their fifth-straight sectional championship in tow, the Trojans are looking for their fourth regional championship in their last five trips, a span in which the program has advanced clear to the state finals in all but the 2009-10 season.
“The community is great, they’re always at every game. The best fans around,” said Shively. “Coach Groves does a great job with everything, and winning is just expected. We work hard in practice and just expect to win.”
“Triton basketball is at it’s best right now, I think,” said Yeo. “The past couple years we’ve accomplished so many things. For different classes to step up and maintain that level of intensity is just unbelievable. We’re so grateful for the five sectional championships, and we’re just trying to go as far as we can and not let the season end too early.”