Story and photos by Chet Piotrowski Jr.

Dynamite comes in small packages. It made a giant explosion for the Green Wave when they so desperately needed one against Champaign Central during the third place game of the 43rd Annual Mattoon Girls Holiday Tournament Thursday night.

Junior guard Piper Sanders erupted for six of her 10 points in the third quarter to spark a 24-11 Green Wave run, enabling Mattoon to post a 73-67 win.

The Green Wave, battling a war of attrition against a bigger opponent once again, finally found the spark it needed.

After an Ella Conyers 3-pointer that broke a 34-all tie, Sanders scored on a breakaway layup. As Mattoon got back on the defensive end, Green Wave center Teygen Sewell blocked a Central shot, starting up the Green Wave offense. 

Sewell peeked through a double-team to see the 5-foot-3 guard running down the lane without a defender. Significantly shorter than the Maroons’ starting five, Sanders slid down the baseline and took the pass for an easy layup, giving the Green Wave a 41-34 lead. 

“We were trying to run that in the first half, but they did a good job of closing in on Teygen,” Sanders said. “So Teygen stepped up and got bigger. I think it was mostly her just taking the ball and taking initiative with the ball.”

Sanders returned the favor on the next possession dishing to Sewell for her only bucket of the game extending Mattoon’s lead to nine. 

“I went to my teammates for passing me the ball,” Sanders said. “Teygen had some really great passes to her side. I think we did a good job sharing the ball tonight and having team energy with Lily, Ella, and Emily making their threes.”

The Green Wave ran their high-flying four guard offense with better execution in the second half, with Sewell at the top of three-point arc emptying the lane of Central defenders – something that they couldn’t do in the first half, which saw them go into halftime down by six.

“We really didn’t talk about that,” Mattoon girls varsity head coach Troy Haacke said. “The set we ran to start the third quarter we did talk about. It was our four guards against their two. That confused them and got them out of their defense for a while. Then they switched to man and we hit them hard two or three times off man. Piper got to the rim perfectly on one and we came off for a three on another.”

Sanders said the set worked well for them, and she hopes to continue using it. 

“It worked out well for us,” she said. “It served a need for us. I think we’ll continue to do it, if it works out like tonight. The first half they did (shut it down). We couldn’t even get it to her in the paint. And the second half, I don’t know what happened. Teygen just got bigger or they got off her.”

Sanders raced down the court with less than a minute to go for a coast-to-coast layup putting Mattoon up nine before Central’s Braelyn Alexandra finished off the third quarter scoring. The Green Wave held Central’s Abby McLeod, who led all scorers with 26 points, to just five in the third after limiting her to three in the second. 

Sanders opened the scoring for the Green Wave in the fourth quarter by making a bucket and sinking the free-throw that gave MHS a nine-point lead.

Central went on a 9-0 run, prompted by Nevaeh Essien’s five points midway through the period. Mattoon weathered the storm by making 14 of 16 free throws in the last two and half minutes of the game to finish out the game. Central made 15 of its 35 free-throw opportunities in the fourth quarter.

“We definitely got into foul trouble, but coach told us to move our feet more,” she said. “It was crazy, it was like we couldn’t even touch them. We just tried to keep them out of the paint and boxed them out. That was big adjustment we had to make.”

Haacke liked that the team is continuing to improve as this season progresses.

“The girls are continuing to get better and understanding our offense,” he said. “It takes a while because there’s a few new things. We had very few turnovers against their press and missed one free throw, maybe. We were just handling things.”

It was the play of Sanders though, weaving herself through traffic getting open and making plays. Not only on the offensive zone, but in the defensive zone where she contested defensive rebounds and, in one case early in the first half, was bumped to the ground by Sewell as they challenged a Central player for the ball.

“Once we hit a few, we start playing better. We caught some momentum and got going. That was a part of the third quarter.”

Note: Both Maple and Ghere were named to the all-tournament team.

Mattoon15112423 –73
Champaign Central21111125 –68

MATTOON – Ghere 6 0-0 17, Maple 7 10-12 27, Sanders 4 2-3 10, Masse 0 4-6 4, Conyers 3 4-4 13, Sewell 1 0-0 2. 3-pointers: Ghere 5, Maple 3, Conyers 3. Totals: 22 20-25 73.

CHAMPAIGN CENTRAL -Jones 1 2-5 4, Alexander 1 1-5 3, Williams 4 3-5 11, Boland 2 0-0 4, Ramshaw 1 5-6 7, Parks 1 1-2 3, McLeod 8 6-7 26, Essien 4 2-5 10. 3-pointers: McLeod 4. Totals: 22 20-35 68