Story and photos by Chet Piotrowski Jr.
Christmas might be two months past, but Mattoon’s Blaine Powers got a present he won’t forget. With the score tied at 39 against Effingham, a loose ball squirted out right in front of him.
The junior guard snatched the ball and put up a point-blank shot with 23 seconds left that gave the Green Wave a two-point lead, and, ultimately, a 41-39 victory.
“It (the play) just slowed down,” Powers said. “You have the ball and put it in the hoop, and that’s what I did. It’s so exciting, you know.”
Mattoon found itself chasing Effingham’s Armando Estrada again in third quarter. The junior guard dropped five of his team-high 13 points while the Hearts took a nine-point lead on the Green Wave, outscoring them 16-5.
The Green Wave returned the favor in the fourth. Mattoon’s zone defense limited the Hearts to just two baskets – both by senior guard Garrett Wolfe, whose 3-pointyer, layup, and free throw were all the offense Effingham could muster.
“I don’t know if there was something specifically, but our guys just battled,” Mattoon assistant varsity coach Jordan Coleman said. “We told them things might not go our way all the time but we have to keep playing and control what you can control. This is a hard place to play.”
Powers said the team picked it up in the final quarter.
“The first three quarters, we were lazy on our zone slides. The last quarter, we picked it up,” he said. “We finally wanted it. We acted like we wanted to win in that fourth quarter.”
Effingham opened the game on a 6-0 run led by four points by junior guard Ethan Ritz. Mattoon would counter with a 6-2 run ending the quarter down 8-7.
Mattoon’s Christian Larson, leading the Green Wave with 12 points, fueled their offense in the second quarter with seven points while Estrada was heating up with six points.
Mattoon would slowly dig itself out a hole with a 3-pointer by Gage Thompson that cut the Hearts’ lead by five two minutes into the fourth quarter. Thompson would come through in the clutch with another 3 just seconds after missing one to tie the score at 36.
“He played great all night,” Powers said. “ That was a dagger. It got the momentum swinging.”
“That was huge,” Coleman said. “He’s been out with some sickness and things, it’s hard to get him back into the swing of things because he’s out of shape, and everyone is. He’s a kid that we want to remain confident. I told him in the locker room after the game my favorite play of the year was when he missed the three, and then three seconds later made a three. I couldn’t have been more proud of him. That’s just gutsy. That’s a gutsy shot.”
The Green Wave were outrebounded for most of the game, but the last one was the most important. Mattoon senior center Sam Bradbury, back from an extended absence, garnered a defensive rebound with 5.6 seconds left in the game.
“Sam’s a monster on the boards,” said Powers. “He gets the team going. Gage boarded great too, but Sam is a monster.”
“Sam does a lot of thing out there and rebounding is a just a part of it,” Coleman said. “He stuffs the middle, and always has two, three or four guys on him. You can’t understate how important to have a kid like Sam. And not just physical stature, but his brain and attitude. He’s always listening and encouraging his teammates.”
But the night would be remembered by Powers’ shot.
“No one doubted for a second that he could do it,” Coleman said. “He knew 100 percent it was going in. Everybody did their role. Blaine goes flat-out for the ball. That was just focusing and doing what he can do. Blaine is the kind of kid that when things break down, he thrives in that. He has those instincts that kick in there. There was no way we could’ve drawn that up.”
Mattoon will celebrate Senior Night hosting Taylorville on Tuesday.
“That’ll be a tough one because they beat us 13 days ago,” Coleman said. “I think it’s going to be a lot like tonight. It might not be as physical; it could be. We kind of gave it away in the fourth and amped up their pressure. That’s something that we didn’t handle that well. That we’re going to have to be ready for.”
MATTOON – Bergstrom 1 1-3 3, Middleton 2 0-0 5, Powers 4 0-0 8, Larson 3 4-4 12, Thompson 2 0-0 6, Grace 1 0-0 2, Bradbury 1 3-5 5. Totals: 13 7-8 41. 3-pointers: Middleton 1, Larson 2, Thompson 3.
EFFINGHAM – Donaldson 2 0-0 6, Wolfe 3 1-4 8, Ritz 4 0-0 8, Estrada 6 0-1 13, D. Fox 1 0-0 2. Totals: 16 1-5 39. 3-pointers: Donaldson 2, Wolfe 1, Estrada 1.