By GREG MENGELT
SEYMOUR — In the end, Trevon Blueitt and the No. 1 Park Tudor Panthers were too much for Clarksville.
Blueitt scored 36 points, grabbed 17 boards and handed out four assists to lead Park Tudor to its third state finals in four years after a 76-64 victory over the Generals.
It certainly wasn’t for lack of determination, grit and heart on the part of Clarksville.
Four times Clarksville fell behind by double figures at Seymour’s famed Lloyd E. Scott Gymasium. Three times the Generals came storming back to make it a game.
“They were a great team, the best team we’ve faced [in the tournament] so far,” Blueitt said of the Generals. “I knew it was going to be a battle from the start. We were never comfortable with any lead. They’re tough.”
Less than six minutes into the game, Blueitt pulled up and nailed a deep 3 to give the Panthers a 17-6 lead. The future Xavier Musketeer and McDonald’s All-American candidate had 11 points and a pair of assists in the opening run.
“One of the things I said to the guys before the game was, “Guys, you can’t get down 8-10 points.’” Clarksville coach Jason Connell recalled. “Within two minutes of the game starting, we got down 10 points.”
If anyone thought the game was over, they underestimated the heart of a champion. Senior Andrew Jones banked in a three-quarters court shot to cap a 6-2 run to close the opening period.
Clarksville senior Calvin McEwen opened the second with a drive then assisted on an Evan Guenthner 3-pointer that got Clarksville within 19-17. Jones later hit a 3 and the Park Tudor advantage was again down to two points at 26-24 with 3:13 left in the half.
“I think that’s the kind of team we have,” Jones said. “We’re going to fight regardless of the score. That’s the kind of mentality we have.”
After scoring just two points in the second quarter, Blueitt came alive again in the third to help the Panthers to a 17-2 spurt that gave them a 43-26 lead with 4:35 remaining in the third.
Again, the Generals showed signs of life by finishing the period on a 15-8 run that closed the gap to 51-41. Senior Marquise Parrish started an 9-0 run with an offensive putback, followed by a pair of McEwen buckets and a Aham Yennes 3-point play.
After three straight Blueitt points ended the Clarksville run, Jones nailed a 3 and McEwen closed the third with four points to get the Generals to within 10.
“We extended the lead in the third quarter, but Jones shot them back into it,” Blueitt said. “That’s something we expected from them. We have to play better defense, but all credit is due to them. I think a lot of them and I wish them nothing but the best.”
Clarksville got within eight points early in the fourth quarter on free throws by McEwen and Jones, but Blueitt and the Panthers — and too many missed free throws — wouldn’t allow the Generals to get any closer.
“We fought back,” Connell said. “We fought back hard. That’s us. That’s one thing I’ve said about this team all year — they don’t quit. They never have. Many teams would have gave up in that game and we didn’t.”
“We had no doubt throughout the entire game that we were going to win,” McEwen said. “Obviously we lost the game, but no doubt was ever in our mind that we could come back and win. We’re winners regardless. We’re winners in my book and hopefully we’ll be winners in everybody else’s book looking back on it.”
As the final buzzer sounded, there were plenty of tears in the Clarksville lockeroom and in the stands as the Generals fell two wins short of their ultimate goal. So too were there cheers of appreciation for what they accomplished.
Chants of “We are Clarksville!” and “Clarksville Generals!” could be heard in the season’s waning moments.
“They kept cheering no matter what, no matter how much we were down,” Parrish observed. “To the end, they kept cheering.”
The 2013-14 Generals captured the hearts of a city.
The crowds came as the wins mounted.
The love came as their team continued to show the heart of a champion.
“Hopefully we’ve been great for the city,” McEwen said. “They’ve been great for us. They don’t even know how much their support means to us. Coming out and packing the stands means the world to us. Hopefully we put on a good show for 26 games we played in front of them.”
“We meant a lot to them,” Jones added. “And they meant a lot to us.”