Outstanding depth has made Effingham boys basketball practices competitive this season, to say the least.
"In practices, that quote-unquote first group that starts, if they don't get after it, I'll tell you what - they get beat," said EHS coach Ron Reed, whose team goes 11 deep.
"We really don't have a second five," Reed added. "We have a lot of starters on this team."
The Hearts' proved the latter statement on Friday at Salem, as 10 EHS players registered in the scoring column in a dominating 71-44 Apollo Conference win.
Effingham starters Hunter Keith, Leighton Lark, Josh Stombaugh, Jake Stombaugh and Clark Williamson got things going, responding to an early 5-0 deficit with a 19-4 run that had the Hearts up 10 points at the end of the opening quarter. Reed then installed Keenan Mahaffey, Alex Carie, Marcus Robinson, Tim Gardewine and Trenton Frey off the bench, and those reserves proceeded to extend EHS's lead to 16 points before most of the starters came back in late in the second quarter.
Eleven Hearts wound up playing in an impressive first half that had the visiting team up 39-17 at intermission, and Effingham (10-4, 5-0 Apollo) extended its lead to as many as 31 in the second half, remaining undefeated in conference play with an impressive win.
The Hearts excelled in every facet of the game, shooting 65 percent from the field overall, 55 percent from three-point range and 80 percent from the foul line. They also frustrated the Wildcats (2-11, 2-3) with their full-court press and pressure man-to-man defense, forcing 21 turnovers.
"I thought the kids really played well tonight," Reed said. "They came out with a lot of energy. We kind of got off to a little of a slow start, but we came back and really had a fine first half."
Josh Stombaugh (12 points) got Effingham rolling with back-to-back 3-pointers in the first quarter, the latter putting the Hearts up for good.
Keith followed up the latter basket with a steal and fast-break basket, kicking off an outstanding all-around game for the senior point guard. Keith finished with 15 points on 6-for-7 shooting and also had several assists.
"What a quality game Hunter Keith played tonight," Reed said.
A Williamson bucket gave Effingham its first double digit lead, 19-9, in the first quarter, as the Hearts hit 8 of their first 12 shots from the field.
Despite a complete lineup change in the second quarter, EHS didn't skip a beat, as the Hearts continued to force turnovers with their relentless defense, converting most of those takeaways into easy buckets.
Effingham - not known as an up-tempo program by any means - wound up with six fast-break buckets in the first half alone.
"The kids have done a great job the last couple games of running the floor," Reed said. "I don't know how many fast-break opportunities we got, but that was a big difference in the ballgame."
Alex Carie provided the biggest spark off the bench, as he hit a pair of 3-pointer in the first half and went on to finish with 11 points. But he contributions went far beyond scoring.
"Alex came in off the bench and really played a great floor game," Reed said. "We all know Alex is a good shooter, but I really felt tonight was one of his best floor games all year, just passing the ball and playing good defense."
Effingham finished with just nine turnovers well over 10 assists, as a weeklong layoff between games did not adversely affect Reed's team at all. Having such competitive practices certainly helps.
"We really have a lot of balance and it is a very competitive atmosphere and it showed tonight," Reed said. "I just thought everybody that got the opportunity to play just really played a fine ballgame. Our starters got off to a little bit of a slow start, but they picked it up and finished the first quarter on a great note."
"It was a great team effort and very unselfish. I always like to see the guys share the ball like they did tonight with a lot of assists."
Effingham will return to action at Salem next week when it opens up play in the Salem Invitational against Mount Vernon on Wednesday. The Hearts have already reached double figures in the win column, with two of their losses coming to state-ranked teams (Teutopolis, No. 4 Class 2A; Cahokia, No. 3 Class 3A).
"I'm tickled do death," Reed said of his team's play so far. "It's always tough to win in places like Paris, like we did last week, and coming here and winning has always been a tough battle."
Effingham 71, Salem 44
Effingham 19 20 18 14 - 71
Salem 9 8 11 16 - 44
Effingham (10-4, 5-0) - Keith 6-7 2-2 15, Jo.Stombaugh 4-10 0-1 12, Carie 4-6 0-0 11, Lark 3-4 0-0 6, Ja.Stombaugh 3-5 0-0 6, Daugherty 2-2 0-0 5, Williamson 2-2 2-2 6, Frey 1-4 2-2 4, Gardewine 1-1 2-3 4, Wohltman 1-1 0-0 2, Robinson 0-0 0-0 0, Mahaffey 0-1 0-0 0, Knight 0-0 0-0 0, Foreman 0-0 0-0 0, Niebrugge 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-43 8-10 71.
Salem (2-11, 2-3) - Hempen 7-10 1-1 14, Phillips 4-7 1-2 12, Rush 4-7 0-1 8, Foreman 2-2 1-2 6, Conklin 0-1 1-2 1, Alverson 1-1 0-0 2, Maxey 0-0 2-2 2, Woodward 0-2 0-2 0. Totals 17-33 6-11 44.
3-point goals - Salem 4-7 (Phillips 3-5, Hempen 1-1, Foreman 1-1), Effingham 6-11 (Keith 1-1, Carie 3-4 ). Rebounds - Salem 12 (Hempen 7), Effingham 15 (Ja.Stombaugh 5, Williamson 3, Frey 3). Turnovers - Salem 21, Effingham 9. JV Score - Effingham 48, Salem 36.