Story and photo by Chet Piotrowski
EFFINGHAM – Charleston took a 40-38 lead into halftime against Effingham on Saturday afternoon, poised to be only the second Apollo Conference team to beat the state-ranked Hearts.
But the Trojans then fell into bad habits that have lingered for much of the season during a third quarter where the team seemed to fall apart, allowing No. 9 Effingham to go on a 23-8 run and roll to a 79-59 victory.
Charleston finishes the season 2-11 in the conference and 2-12 overall. Effingham captured the Apollo title at 13-1, 17-1 overall.
“I thought for two-and-a half quarters we battled and played and took them step for step,” Charleston coach Brad Oakley said. “The thing is: after the two-week layoff from quarantining and having to play four games a week for four straight weeks, it takes their legs a little bit. But I couldn’t be more proud of the kids. They battled and competed. They showed some pride and guts and took a really good team and battled against them.
“I appreciate how Sam (Bickford) and Cory (Spour) competed as seniors. But, hopefully, the younger guys got a lesson on how hard you have to play each and every night for 32 minutes to give yourself a chance to be successful down at the end.”
Jaksen Braun sparked the Charleston offense with 14 first-half points, hitting three 3-pointers, keeping them just a step ahead of Effingham.
“I thought the big part was the energy we were playing with. We had a couple shots go in on the offensive end and we felt little bit better,” Oakley said. “We battled and competed on the defensive end. If you do that, you give yourself a chance to be successful.”
The Hearts’ Parker Wolfe countered with 21 first-half points of his own while Nate Thompson, who celebrated hitting the 1,000-point mark Friday night, made one free throw in the first two quarters.
“I don’t know if they (Charleston) were neutralizing them (Parker and Nate) as much as we weren’t playing defense,” Effingham coach Obie Farmer said. “We’re a team where if you take away one of our guys, someone else is going to pop up. Stoney (Jacob Stoneburner) had eleven in the first half. So when Nate’s not scoring, Stoney steps up. When Parker isn’t scoring, Garrett (Wolfe) has a tendency to step up and make shots. When you take one down, another steps up to the plate and takes care of business.”
Braun drove to the hoop on the Trojans first third-quarter possession, drawing a foul on Thompson and increasing Charleston’s lead by four.
Thompson would heat up for the Hearts in the third quarter. The senior hit a jumper and was fouled by Charleston’s Jackson Burgess, completing the three-point play that cut Charleston’s lead to one.
Guard Parker Wolfe, who finished his senior season with 1,654 career points for fifth in Effingham’s all-time scoring, stole the ball from Braun and ran the floor for an uncontested layup, giving the Hearts a 43-42 lead and prompting a timeout from Oakley.
Charleston would turn the ball over to Thompson out of the break, who scored to extend the Hearts’ lead by three.
With a five-point lead, Thompson dunked the ball from a long outlet pass from the elder Wolfe, causing Oakley to call a second timeout to try to stymie the Hearts advance. By then it was too late. The Hearts would take a 61-48 lead into the fourth quarter.
“That was our MO (modus operandi) most of those twelve games,” Oakley said. “We would battle and compete for two-and-a half to three quarters, then we would have a four or five minute spell where things wouldn’t go our way.”
Spour, who missed his entire junior year and two complete years away from basketball due to an wrist injury playing football, shared similar sentiments.
“That’s what we’ve struggled with all year,” Charleston’s Cory Spour said. “Our halftime scores are great. We come out in the start of the game and really play with teams. But it seemed like something in the third quarter just doesn’t … we just don’t gel together well and then lose a lead.”
Farmer said he told the players at halftime they needed to prioritze defense.
“The only thing I said (at halftime) was we’re not playing like ourselves,” Farmer said. “We’re not executing our defense and not making a priority to get stops. I still don’t think we were ready necessarily when we started the second half. But when we started to press, it forced them to have some energy.”
Charleston would get as close as eight points in the fourth quarter with a seven-point run on Oakley’s four points and Braun’s three.
Effingham closed the door on any Charleston hopes when Wolfe, Stoneburner, and Garrett Wolfe contributed on a six-point run late in the fourth.
“It was definitely a big bummer when we thought we weren’t going to have basketball,” Spour said. “Being able to come out and play some games our senior year was definitely the best outcome.”
CHARLESTON: Spour 7 0-0 14, Burgess 2 0-0 5, Applegate 2 0-0 4, Braun 9 5-5 27, Oakley 2 0-0 4, Bickford 2 0-0 5. Totals 24 5-5 59. 3-pointers: Burgess 1, Braun 4, Bickford 1.
EFFINGHAM: G. Wolfe 3 3-6 10, P. Wolfe 10 8-9 35, Thompson 4 3-7 11, Logan 3 0-0 6, Stoneburner 7 0-0 15, Woomer 1 0-0 2. 3-pointers: G. Wolfe 1, P. Wolfe 6, Stoneburner 1.