By Joe Gisondi & Pilar Barrio Sanchez
It’s far more difficult to stop the Charleston girls basketball team this year.
Just ask Mattoon.
The Green Wave twice routed the Trojans last season – 68-27 and 77-47 – much like they beat most teams in winning the Apollo Conference with a 12-0 mark.
But Thursday night in a nearly empty Mattoon gym, Charleston took charge early and never relented in a 68-46 victory that gives the Trojans a two-game lead over the Green Wave in the conference standings midway through the season.
Charleston is 6-0; Mattoon is 4-2. These two teams face off again Feb. 27 with an 11 a.m. Saturday tip off.
That game, though, might not matter if these Trojans keep playing at this pace – averaging more than 65 points a game, dominating under the boards and pressing in a defense that leads to great numbers of transition points.
Charleston coach Jeff Miller says his team is at its best when it runs. “Our goal is we want to speed teams up,” he said.
“They did a good job of pushing the ball,” Mattoon coach Amanda Aydt told WMCI in her postgame interview. “They’re a good transition team.”
That a team that went 9-18 last season is playing this well is likely a surprise to casual fans but not a shocker for opposing coaches who know this year’s CHS team is majorly revamped after having adding two experienced players who had taken a season or two to concentrate on volleyball and having a healthy all-state point guard, Shae Littleford, who missed 10 games in 2019-20. There’s also sophomore forward, Alycia Triplett, who appears to be playing with more confidence and skill, which was clear Thursday night when she took more mid-range jumpers, grabbed 12 rebounds and scored 10 points.
Triplett teamed with Kat Blase, a powerful frontline volleyball player on CHS’s regional champions who’s hitting the court for the first time since her freshman season, to record numerous steals, block shots inside the lanes and snag most of the team’s 44 total rebounds. Blase’s 16 rebounds Thursday night increases her season average to 10.8 a game. The senior also scored 12 points.
Buescher, who started for Charleston’s 29-1 team two seasons ago, knocked down a few 3-pointers en route to a 13-point performance that pads her scoring average to 10.3 ppg.
“Quite honestly,” Miller said, “I’ve never had a team that rebounds this well.”
Shae Littleford, meanwhile, nearly matched her season average, dropping in 24 points to move within five points of second place all-time for school scoring. She’s also now 114 points from breaking the all-time scoring mark despite the shortened season.
“We got a couple of girls back,” Littleford said. “That definitely helps. We’re deeper this year. We had four girls in double-figures. So to be balanced in scoring really, really helps us.”
But Charleston struggled early, unable to shake a defense meant to shut down Littleford while missing several 3-pointers to fall behind 7-4 several minutes into the game. But Triplett then blocked a shot and went full-court for an easy layup to spark a 9-4 run buoyed by a 15-foot fall-away jumper from Littleford, a long pass to Buescher that resulted in another unchallenged layup and a 3-pointer by the senior to make it 13-9 with under three minutes left in the first quarter, a lead the Trojans never relinquished.
“We’re tickled to be in this position right now,” Miller said.
Ahead 19-13 entering the second quarter, Charleston took off on a 12-3 run highlighted by 3s by Buescher and freshman Addison Shrader, a steal that led to a quick lay-in by Blase and a three-point play on Littleford’s driving lay-up that made it 31-15.
A 16-4 run to start the second half put Charleston ahead 53-29 with about two minutes left in the third quarter.
Despite another strong performance by Mallory Ramage, Mattoon could not keep pace. The junior point guard scored 27 points, concluding a three-game stretch where she has scored 91 total points.
“They did a nice job,” Aydt told WMCI. “Shae made some nice passes to her teammates and they made their shots.”
CHARLESTON: Buescher 5 1-4 13, Triplett 5 0-0 10, Meister 10-1 2, Littleford 10 5-5 26, Shrader 1 0-2 3, Blase 5 2-2 12, Herrington 1 0-0 2. Totals 28 8-14 68. 3-pointers – Buescher 2, Littleford 1, Shrader 1.
MATTOON: Haacke 1 0-0 3, Greeson 2 0-0 4, Ramage 11 5-6 27, Bryant 4 3-4 12. Totals 18 8-10 46. 3-pointers – Haacke 1, Bryant 1.