By Pilar Barrio Sanchez
The Mattoon-Charleston game on Saturday at noon is one of those games, a game between neighbors, between friends, between rivals, but above all, a game that nobody wants to lose.
“It is always exciting to play a rivalry game,” Charleston coach Jeff Miller said. “They (Mattoon) have a good crowd and a really good student section, so we are excited to go there and play them.”
This game could not have come at a better time for Charleston (7-13).
Junior Shae Littleford returned to play Monday night after recovering the past six weeks from a knee injury. The all-state guard, who had been averaging 23.4 points per game before getting sidelined, scored 10 points against the Braves. She just completed her first week practicing with the team.
“It is really good news for us to have her back,” Miller said. “This has been her first week fully practicing with the team, and her shooting and fitness have been getting better.”
Charleston had struggled without Littleford. With her, the Trojans had gone 5-4 through the Mt. Zion game on Dec. 12. Afterward, they won two of 10 games although one was a forfeit from Cairo in the holiday tournament.
Miller has given confidence and responsibility to a group of freshman to whom these six weeks have provided them with more experience.
“I feel bad for them (freshman) because they were thrown to a sink or swim situation,” Miller said, “but we have done a lot of improvement over the course of the weeks without Shae.”
Mattoon (20-4), meanwhile, has its own all-state player, Mallory Ramage, who has helped the Green Wave to remain unbeaten in the Apollo Conference.
The Green Wave, who are ranked No. 13 among Class 3A schools in Illinois by MaxPreps, are averaging more than 50 points per game.
In their first game last month, Mattoon overwhelmed an inexperienced Charleston squad, which was playing in only its second game after losing Littleford, 68-27. Ramage recorded 20 points and seven steals in the game.
“It’s always special when Mattoon and Charleston play,” Mattoon coach Amanda Aydt said. “The rivalry adds a little extra excitement, but we prepare just like we do for every opponent.”