By Chet Piotrowski
It was if Mattoon were stuck in their own personal Groundhog Day.
In their 40-35 loss five weeks ago, the Green Wave went ahead ahead on the Hearts in the first half behind strong second-quarter defense, but their lead slipped away on poor shooting,.
That was also the case Thursday evening in another close loss, 51-47.
Mattoon finished the season 8-6, while Effingham are 6-8.
The Green Wave took a nine-point lead on a basket by junior guard Mallory Ramage, who finished with a game-high 21 points, midway through the second quarter and entered the halftime break with a 24-16 lead.
The Hearts went on a 22-12 third quarter behind 17 combined points from sophmores Madison Mapes and Annie Frost, taking a two-point lead going into the fourth quarter.
“With it being a shortened season and not even knowing if we were going to have a season, we just wanted to come out and play our best and get the most out of the season,” Effingham senior Taylor Armstrong said. “I would say we’re a pretty close team. We build off each other. When one person starts having energy, then we all have energy.”
“We came out strong, but in the end we just stopped running our offense,” senior Delainey Bryant said. “It’s a tough loss.”
Mattoon tied the game with the first basket of the fourth quarter when Bryant made her only second-half points, finishing with eight.
“We just weren’t executing our defense,” Bryant said. “They were driving to the basket a lot and putting them in. We weren’t rotating on defense as good as we normally do. They came out attacking the basket strong.”
After an Armstrong jumper for the Hearts, Ramage made one of her four 3-pointers to give the Green Wave a 41-40 lead and made a free throw after the next possession.
Effingham would score two consecutive buckets by Mapes and junior Meredith Schaefer, giving the Hearts a two-point lead, 44-42, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Effingham held Mattoon to just eleven fourth-quarter points, with just four from Ramage as poor shooting plagued them again. The Green Wave made just 12 of 31 field-goal attempts for a .387 average and 7 of 19 from 3-point range.
“We know she’s a very good player,” Armstrong said of Ramage. “She scores most of their points and loves to drive and is a good three-point shooter. We just decided that we needed to shut her down to win the game.”
Mapes and Schaefer combined for 5 of 8 free throws in the final 77 seconds of the game as the Hearts would close out the four-point win.
“They had a lot of determination,” Armstrong said. “They’re just good players to work with. Mapes makes her free throws. She works on those every day in practice. Annie is a very hard player to guard inside. We really wanted this win.”
It wasn’t the ending the Green Wave senior wanted.
“I’m definitely disappointed that we didn’t get a full season,” Bryant said. “I’m glad we got a season because I wasn’t very hopeful that we’d have one. It’s been fun. I do wish we had more to play and a postseason.”
Before walking away with a hug from Armstrong and tears in her eyes, Bryant paused. “Yeah, I really wish we had a full season,” she said. “Shots weren’t just falling. That happens. Just had an off-game.”
The guard finished her career with 790 points.
“I can’t speak for the rest of the team, but I think they’re all on board with this, but I love basketball with all my heart. Even to get a season is a miracle,” Armstrong said. “I didn’t think we’d get a season and, once I heard that we were, I wanted to play my hardest. I think the team wanted to come out and play the hardest and the get most out of this season.”
Mattoon coach Amanda Aydt said she was proud of her team.
“This is a special team who is dedicated, always works hard, and plays well together,” she said. “I have really enjoyed coaching this team and want to thank them for a memorable season.”
MATTOON (8-6): Haacke 1 0-0 3, Bryant 3 0-2 8, Pruitt 4 0-0 8, Niebrugge 3 1-2 7, Ramage 8 1-2 21. 3-pointers: Haacke 1, Bryant 2, Ramage 4. Totals 19 2-6 47
EFFINGHAM (6-8): Mapes 4 4-7 13, Frost 8 1-2 17, Althoff 4 1-1 9, Schaefer 1 1-2 3, Armstrong 3 0-0 6, Budde 1 0-0 3. 3-pointers: Mapes 1, Budde 1.