For the Daily News
In what was Effingham's toughest test of the season, it took everything the Lady Hearts had to pass.
Effingham had to fight hard and use clutch free throw shooting to down Taylorville 60-52 and repeat as Charleston Holiday Tournament champions.
The Flaming Hearts shot 17-of-20 at the free throw line in the fourth quarter as tournament MVP Caitlin Kaufman led Effingham with 18 points, while all-tournament selection Josie Zerrusen added 15 points and eight rebounds.
“I think we had two misses to start it too, so we were 17 of our last 18,” said Effingham coach Jeff Scahfer. “I like the way we handled the ball at the end. We didn't turn it over. We work on that in practice.”
Taylorville led 40-39 at one point, but couldn't climb over the hump. The second-place finishers might have now set the stage for future entertaining matchups between these two teams when Taylorville joins the Apollo Conference next season.
“We play Effingham again at home this season,” said Taylorville coach Mark Hannant. “I wouldn't say we are targeting that game, but the girls look to get it back."
Taylorville had Effingham on the ropes where they led 18-15 after one quarter of play. The largest lead never exceeded more than three points.
Effingham needed supplemental scoring in the second quarter after Jantzen Michael picked up her second foul. At the time, Michael had about half of the Hearts points.
The team was able to keep up the pace with Lauren Stephenson coming through with a big game off the bench. Stephenson finished with 13 points.
“We kept our composure after a tough first quarter,” said Schafer. “We didn't panic. We kept playing through. Taylorville is a very good basketball team.”
The three-ball was falling for Effingham at first, with four of the five field goals came from outside, but the team lost their shooting touch early, making none for the rest of the first half.
Taylorville continued to pound their way inside for buckets under the basket. Grace Bollinger and Alex Norville paced the Lady Tornadoes, combining for 16 of the 28 halftime points. Candace Smart added a huge three-point play off an offensive rebound to tie the game at 34-34.
Kaufman responded with three straight free throws after she was fouled on the 3-point shot attempt. The lead flip flopped one more time before the score read 40-39 in favor of Effingham.
“Our man-to-man defense was hard-nosed,” said Hannant. “We had pretty good scouting on them. We knew who we could help on. We had to close out, but they still knocked down some three's in the game.”
Effingham took the largest lead of the game of five after a basket by Stephenson. Taylorville cut it down to 49-47 with three minutes to play, but the Lady Tornadoes went cold.
After coming within two, Taylorville missed seven of their next eight shots to end the game.
“We had a tough time getting the ball in the basket,” said Hannant. “Our typical offensive putbacks didn't fall. We only had one three. We still had 52 points, but we scored 70 the last two games and were scoring pretty well. We couldn't get the shots to fall when we needed them.”
Free throws down the stretch proved key. Effingham finished 34-of-40 at the charity stripe as Effingham clinched their second straight championship in Charleston.
The win also kept Effingham's undefeated season alive at 14-0.
“I think I have been blessed with one heck of a 2013 year,” said Scahfer. “He have had the one defeat in the Regional (final) all the way back to January of this year. I have been blessed with a great group of kids, including the three that left me for that half part of last season this year, that are willing to work and get better, and are not satisfied with where we are at.”
Taylorville falls to 11-4 overall on the season.
Effingham 15 14 11 20 60
Taylorville 19 10 11 13 52
Effingham: Michael 10, Kaufman 18, Robb 2, Zerrusen 15, Stephenson 13, Beals 4
Taylorville: Durham 4, Moats 4, Brown 6, Bollinger 10, Norville 11, Smart 11, Brandis 7