By Mike Monahan
MAHOMET – In a year where things were not normal, the Charleston girls’ basketball team was perfect.
The Trojans used a 19-1 run in a span of 5 minutes, 29 seconds to put the game out of reach as they led Mahomet-Seymour 45-22. The Trojans went on to win 62-45 and finish the season perfect at 15-0 overall and 14-0 in the Apollo Conference. Not only was it the last game of their high school careers for Shae Littleford, Hannah Buescher and Kat Blase, but for coach Jeff Miller.
“It has been a pleasure for all 14 years,” said Miller. “It has been a life experience for me, year in and year out, and I am going to miss it. “
Buescher, who entered the game averaging 8.8 points per game, scored a season-high 29 points, while Charleston’s all-time leading scorer, Shae Littleford, had 21 points.
“At halftime, I told them in the locker room that games are 32 minutes and not 16,” said Miller.
Charleston led by 26-21 about a minute into the second half. The Trojans started the key run of the game with a bucket by Blase off an in-bounds play. Buescher scored on a pass from Littleford and Buescher, who made five 3-pointers, sank another one. After a Mahomet free throw, Shelby Herrington scored, followed by Littleford. Buescher then scored off a steal for a layup and Littleford scored the next six points, including a rebound basket and off a pass from Blase for a 45-22 advantage.
Mahomet’s Chloe Pruitt ended the 0-for-9 stretch with a basket. The Trojans led by as much as 24, including with seven minutes remaining.
The Bulldogs scored 10 straight points to get back to within 14, and later trailed by 13 with 2:40 left, but that was as close as they would get.
“In the second and third quarters, we picked it up in half-court with our trap, which we call blitz,” said Miller. “The purpose is not necessarily to cause turnovers but to speed them up.
Charleston trailed by five points on two different occasions in the opening quarter.
“We had a slow start coming off a big game Wednesday night,” said Miller of the 67-60 victory Wednesday night. We came out with a little energy and they came out with a lot of energy.”
Charleston made just going 3-of-15 field goals in the first 8:35 of the game, before firing in 7-of-12 the next 6:59 and then went on another run, making 10-of-12 in a span of 6:15.
“In the second half, we were able to get a lot of transition baskets off of rebounds,” said Miller. “It was the defense that helped our offense. Our full-court trap caused them problems.”Cayla Koerner and Thomas led Mahomet-Seymour with 16 and 13 points respectively. Charleston began the season with a 60-44 win over the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs (7-8 overall, 7-7 in the Apollo), scored six straight points to take an 8-3 lead and were ahead 13-8 with 7:35 remaining in the first half. Mahomet’s box-and-one on Littleford caused the Trojans to turn the ball over seven times in the first quarter. Later, the Bulldogs played a 2-3 zone on Charleston, who played mainly man-to-man.
Mahomet led 15-11 when Charleston scored 15 of the next 17 points , taking the lead for good on a three-pointer by Buescher midway through the period. The Bulldogs ended the scoring in the first half with a three-pointer by Durbin Thomas as Charleston led 26-20 at the break.
Buescher was 11-of-16 (.688) from the field, including 5-of-8 from beyond the 3-point line.
“Hannah played a great game and ran the floor well,” said Miller.
Charleston outrebounded Mahomet-Seymour 43-32 and shot 44 percent to the Bulldogs 30.
“Eight weeks ago we didn’t think we would have a season and then it was 100 miles an hour,” Miller said. “We knew Mattoon, the defending champions, would be tough to deal with, Mahomet and Lincoln probably has the best freshman in the state. We played well as a team. We gelled right out of the box.”
In 14 seasons, Miller has guided Charleston to a 248-120 record.
“I started with a win over Mattoon and finished with a win over Mahomet-Seymour,” said Miller. “There are not many coaches that end up with a win in their last game.”
Miller, a 1979 Charleston grad, taught for 24 years at Charleston, retiring last year. He began his career at Ashland (now Ashland-Franklin Center) in 1986-87 and 1987-88 where he coached boys’ basketball. He was at Cumberland Jr. High in 1988-89 before going to Windsor where he coached the Blue Devils boys’ team to a 70-84 record in six seasons, including a 19-9 year in 1991-92.
He came back to his alma mater in 1995-95 where he was the freshman boys’ basketball coach and the next year the junior varsity coach. He took over as head boys’ coach in 1997-98 and was 40-92 in five seasons. Miller, whose brother Jim is the boys’ basketball coach at Carbondale, retired after 23 years and winning 424 games. Jeff Miller took over the girls’ basketball head coaching job after being an assistant football coach in 2007-08. He has had 10 winning seasons, including three Class 3A regional titles and eight 20-plus win seasons, including the 2018-19 year when they went 29-1, but 27-0 in the regular season – the only other time the Trojans had gone the regular season unscathed.
Overall, minus the two years at Ashland, Jeff Miller is 358-296 (.547) in 25 seasons.
CHARLESTON: Buescher 11-2-2-29, Triplett 1-0-0-2, Littleford 8-4-7-21, Shrader 1-0-0-2, Blase 3-0-0-6, Meister 0-0-0-0, Blair 0-0-0-0, Logsdon 0-0-0-0, Herrington 1-0-0-2, Totals 25-6-9-62
MAHOMET-SEYMOUR: Thomas 5-0-0-13, Koerner 6-1-2-16, Bunting 1-1-3-3, Pruitt 3-0-2-6, Clements 1-3-6-5, Dewitt 0-0-0-0, Esker 0-0-0-0, Webb 0-0-0-0, Thomason 1-0-0-2, Hannah 0-0-0-0, Legacy 0-0-0-0, Litteken 0-0-0-0, Totals 17-5-13-45
Three-point goals: Charleston 6-14 (Buescher 5-8, Littleford 1-5,Blair 0-1), Mahomet-Seymour 6-13 (Thomas 3-4, Koerner 3-6, Bunting 0-3). Rebounds: Charleston 43 (Littleford, Blase 8), Mahomet-Seymour 32 (Clements 6). Shooting percentages: Charleston .439, Mahomet-Seymour .298. Turnovers: Charleston 17, Mahomet-Seymour 14