By Justin Tierney
With a roster light on experience and given the quality of other teams in the field, the Charleston Lady Trojans faced a tall task in achieving a three-peat in the 27th Annual Charleston Girls Holiday Tournament, even if they were at full strength.
So, winning a third consecutive tournament championship without three key players, including injured all-state point guard Shae Littleford? Next to impossible.
The short-handed Lady Trojans weren’t done any favors by their two Saturday opponents, Teutopolis and Danville. Teutopolis throttled Charleston by a score of 64-13 in a noon contest. Danville also put a hurting on the Lady Trojans, winning 52-24 in a game that tipped off at 4:30 P.M.
In the aftermath of Saturday’s two losses, Charleston coach Jeff Miller was caught between two feelings.
On the one hand, the veteran coach was pleased with the way the tournament as a whole had unfolded –– good crowds watching good teams play good, competitive games.
“It’s a really good tournament. We have several state-ranked teams here,” said Miller. “It’s been a good, solid tournament this year. This is my thirteenth year of coaching girls basketball and it’s been really solid every year.
“We changed the format a little bit this year, going from a 16-team tournament to going to a pool play set-up. But the crowds have been really good and I think people have seen some good basketball.
On the other hand, Miller couldn’t shake his frustration with the circumstances that had befallen his young team, particularly the loss of his star point guard. Littleford, a junior who is committed to play college basketball at the University of Tennessee at Martin, watched Saturday’s action from the bench while wearing a soft knee brace.
“We went from being competitive, and being in every ballgame, to what happened tonight. That’s how good (Littleford) is. She’s just a great player,” said Miller after the loss to Danville. “Good point guards make everyone around them better, and she does that for us.
“Our scoring has dropped off because of her unselfishness. Granted, she’s still scoring 25 points per game, but she leads us in assists and makes everybody better. We miss that.”
Though the Lady Trojans have fielded a young roster all season, the situation multiplied without Littleford; in the two Saturday games, five freshmen saw the floor for Charleston.
“To me, it’s really unfair. It’s unfair to the freshmen to be put in this situation,” said Miller. “Ideally, what you’d like to do is bring them along slowly at the freshman and sophomore level. Part of our success over the last few years has been in developing girls at that level and then also contributing some in the junior varsity games.
“Ideally, they would get a lot of time to develop and a lot of minutes at those levels over the course of the season. These girls are basically just getting thrown into this varsity situation and it’s ‘Here you go: sink or swim.’ I feel bad for them, but I think our effort has been pretty good.”
Danville 52, Charleston 24
Led by the slick ball-handling and heady play of junior guard Erin Houpt, the Lady Vikings blitzed Charleston from tip-off, jumping out to a 22-4 first quarter lead and a 40-10 half-time advantage. Houpt, who announced that she had received a scholarship offer from Eastern Illinois head coach Matt Bollant earlier this week, scored 11 points in the first half, as did Danville sophomore Tharija Rose.
The Lady Trojans would outscore Danville 10-6 in the third quarter, led by seven points from freshman forward Alycia Triplett. Ultimately, though, Charleston never cut the deficit within 20 points in the second half. The loss meant the Lady Trojans record in pool play fell to 1-3.
Danville: Houpt 7 3-5 17, Rose 4 3-4 11, Conaway 7 1-2 15, R. Reed 0 0-2 0, Calloway 0 0-0 0, A. Reed 1 0-0 3, Payne 1 1-2 3, Woods 0 0-0 0, Crenshaw 0 0-0 0, Davis 1 1-2 3. Totals: 21 9-17 52. 3-pointers: A. Reed 1.
Charleston: Hutchins 0 0-0 0, Triplett 5 3-7 13, Blair 0 0-0 0, Herrington 1 2-7 4, Logsdon 0 0-0 0, Davis 0 0-0 0, Lane 1 0-0 2, Long 2 0-0 5, Campbell 0 0-0 0, Wren 0 0-0 0. Totals: 9 5-14 24. 3-pointers: Long 1.
Teutopolis 64, Charleston 13
In Saturday’s first game with Teutopolis, the Lady Trojans were overwhelmed by a relentless full-court press, spearheaded by Lady Shoes guards Ciara Roepke, Olivia Niemerg and Lexie Niebrugge. The backcourt trio combined for 28 first-half points en route to a 35-2 Teutopolis lead at intermission.
Charleston’s sole field goal in the first half came on an offensive rebound and putback from Triplett with a 1:30 to play in the second quarter.
The second half was more of the same. After Triplett scored again on the Lady Trojans’ first possession, Teutopolis rattled off a 15-0 run that led to a commanding 54-9 advantage after three quarters.
“They’re a good team,” said Miller of the Lady Shoes. “For most of the game, we played three freshman and two sophomores. We’re just really depleted by injuries and other things. It is what it is.
“It wasn’t really anything different. We’re always going to see that kind of pressure defense. (Teutopolis coach Laurie Thompson) took the press off in the second half. She knew we had lot of young kids out there. It could have been worse than it was.”
Teutopolis: Tegeler 0 2-2 2, L. Niebrugge 5 1-1 12, Roepke 4 0-0 9, Schumacher 1 0-0 2, Niemerg 7 2-2 18, K. Niebrugge 3 0-0 6, Mette 3 0-2 6, Hardiek 4 1-2 9. Totals: 27 6-9 64. 3-pointers: Niemerg 2, Roepke 1, L. Niegbrugge 1
Charleston: Hutchins 0 0-0 0, Triplett 2 0-0 4, Blair 0 0-0 0, Herrington 1 2-2 5, Logsdon 0 0-0 0, Davis 0 0-0 0, Lane 0 0-0 0, Long 0 0-0 0, Campbell 2 0-0 4, Wren 0 0-0 0. Totals 5 2-2 13. 3-pointers: Herrington 1.