By Steve Raymond
News Report Staff
Just a few inches higher on the backboard and Jeff Schafer and the Effingham Lady Hearts would have been celebrating rather than wondering “what if.”
Miranda Fox made a terrific drive to the basket in the final moments Thursday night, but her near-miss at the buzzer resulted in a tough 46-45 setback for the Lady Hearts against Mattoon in a key Apollo Conference matchup in Effingham.
Fox’s shot capped a wild final 57 seconds.
The Lady Hearts trailed 44-41 when Carsyn Fearday hit a short jumper to close the gap to 44-43. Effingham then applied full-court pressure and created a turnover with 48 seconds to play.
EHS ran the clock down to under 20 seconds before taking a shot. Once again, it was Fearday that scored; this time after grabbing an offensive rebound to put the Lady Hearts on top, 45-44, with only 14 seconds left.
After a Mattoon timeout, the Lady Hearts continued to apply the full-court pressure. Unfortunately, Mattoon’s Sierra Thompson got behind the defense. After taking in a long pass, she drove to the basket and scored what proved to be the game-winning bucket.
“I wanted to apply pressure and make them take time off the clock,” Schafer said. “I thought we could make them zig-zag down the floor. I didn’t want to give them a free run at it.
“But we can’t give them the wide open bucket,” he added. “Our natural instinct was to try to stop the basketball. But we let Thompson get loose. And then we should have fouled rather than giving up the layup.”
But there was still six seconds to play.
Fox, Effingham’s quick point guard, got the ball and quickly dribbled down floor. She made a nice move near the free throw line and drove toward the bucket.
“Miranda made a good play and got a good shot,” Schafer said. “Just a little higher on the backboard and we win.”
The game was close throughout, but that was expected. Effingham and Mattoon are expected to battle for the conference crown.
The Lady Hearts jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead, but the Lady Green Wave came back to take an 11-8 advantage by the end of the opening quarter.
Fox then went on a personal 7-0 scoring run that put Effingham on top, 17-13. At intermission, the Lady Hearts held a 22-18 edge.
Aly Armstrong opened the third period with a 3-pointer that gave Effingham its biggest lead of the game, 25-18. Thompson scored five straight points for Mattoon to close the gap to two, but EHS still led, 33-29, heading into the final eight minutes.
Fearday scored on back-to-back possessions to make it 37-32 at the 6:45 mark. But according to Schafer, the following three minutes were the key to the game.
“After we got that five-point lead, I was really disappointed in our execution and effort,” he admitted. “We always talk about playing hard on every possession. Not everybody was doing that. We didn’t box out, gave up easy rebounds and just played with a lack of effort. That is unacceptable.”
Effingham turned the ball over twice during that stretch and Mattoon capitalized. Avery Jackson hit a jumper and Thompson followed with a three-point play and another bucket to put the Lady Green Wave in front, 41-38, with 3:03 to play.
Armstrong hit a three to tie the game, but Jackson answered with a three of her own to put Mattoon ahead, 44-41, with 1:15 left and set the stage for the flourish at the end.
“It was a heckuva game,” Schafer said. “We made some really good plays at the end. Aly hit a huge shot for us and Carsyn really hustled to get that rebound and score to put us ahead. We’re just going to look back at that one stretch when we had the lead and let it get away. But we’ll learn from this.”
Fearday finished with 18 points and Fox added 10. Armstrong led the team with six rebounds.
Thompson, who has committed to play at Bowling Green University next year, turned in a double-double. After being held to just two points in the first half, she finished with 18 and also pulled down 16 rebounds. Jackson chipped in with 15 points.
“A game like this could determine the conference champion,” Schafer noted. “It hurts.”
It was the first setback of the season for the Lady Hearts. They are now 7-1 overall and 1-1 in league play. They will return to action Monday night with a home conference game against Mt. Zion.
Lady Hearts beat Mt. Zion
Effingham bounced back from that tough loss to Mattoon by posting a 50-30 win Monday night at home over Mt. Zion.
The Lady Hearts led throughout. They were up 10-2 after eight minutes, 23-10 at halftime and 32-21 at the end of the third period.
Carson Fearday led the offensive attack with a 21-point effort. Miranda Fox and Shelby Myers both scored seven.
EHS improved to 8-1 overall and 2-1 in the Apollo Conference. The Lady Hearts have two more games before the holiday tournament. They will play at Taylorville Thursday and then return home to face Cahokia Saturday.