For the Daily News
Lauren Stephenson is making her case for the best sixth man.
“My sophomore year, the team didn't understand everyone's role,” said Stephenson. “I knew going into my senior year that I'd be that sixth man. The sooner I'd accept my role, the better I could help the team.”
Despite leading scorer Caitlin Kaufman not making a shot from the field, Stephenson made a huge impact with a game high 18 points off the bench, making seven of nine shots.
Along with Stephenson's big night, Jantzen Michael added 17 points, while Josie Zerrusen finished with 13 points and six rebounds to lead Effingham, the No. 11 ranked team in Class 3A, to a 58-38 win over Charleston at Baker Gym.
“She's just one of our best players,” said Effingham coach Jeff Schafer. “I don't know why my gut doesn't start her. It's hard to look her in the eye and not start her, but she has so much success in that role. Last year coming off the bench was Jantzen's role and she accepted it. To have a kid like Lauren, who's not selfish, is great for this team. She just wants to win.”
For Charleston, it was their second straight loss at home as the team fell to Mount Zion last Thursday to fall to 10-8 overall and 3-3 in the Apollo Conference.
Morgan Sherwood led Charleston with 17 points and seven rebounds.
“We have played two very good basketball teams while being shorthanded,” said Charleston coach Jeff Miller. “We have to cut down on the turnovers. You aren't going to be in too many ball game with 11 unforced turnovers in the first half.”
For a moment it looked like things were going Charleston's way when Kaufman picked up her second foul with 6:12 left to play, but Zerrusen converted a rare four-point play, and something clicked for the Lady Hearts on both sides of the ball.
Effingham finished the first quarter with an 18-2 run, with seven points coming from both Zerrusen and Stephenson. The defense cranked up as well as Charleston finished the quarter by missing their last eight shots, while committing four turnovers.
“Josie made some big plays, and it translated over to everyone else,” said Schafer. “We got off to a slow start, and without Caitlin scoring as well. That's why we are 16-0 though. It's because of our depth. It makes it hard on who to stop.”
Charleston's woes continued over as Haiven Bowersock's 3-point shot with 3:43 left in the half was the first field goal and the lead grew to 24-8.
Charleston was able to cut down the lead to 12 points, but Effingham ended the quarter with an 11-2 run to lead 35-14 at halftime.
Of course, six of those 11 points came from the hustling Stephenson.
“It just depends what the team needs,” said Stephenson. “I may need to be out playing defense some nights. It just depends. When we played Cahokia the other night, Josie (Zerrusen) erupted for 30 points, and we looked for her. You never know when someone on this team will have a big night.”
Only two Lady Hearts scored in the third quarter, but Michael provided the lift by scoring eight of the 11 third quarter points. Charleston trailed by as many as 23 points, but were able to cut it as close as 43-29.
Effingham cruised in the fourth quarter as the team improved to 16-0 on the season and 5-0 in the conference.
“I thought the key was the start Josie had,” said Schafer. “She made some big hustle plays, and I felt that everybody watched her, and they started getting on the board. The intensity level carried over from player to player.”
The Lady Hearts will look to keep their perfect record alive tonight, traveling to Newton in a makeup game. Effingham bested Newton 47-29 back in November at Newton's Bob Kerans Tournament.
Effingham 18 17 11 12 58
Charleston 5 9 15 11 38
Effingham: Michael 17, Kaufman 2, Robb 6, Zerrusen 13, Stephenson 18, Field 2
Charleston: Crowder 6, Miller 3, Gossett 1, Sherwood 17, Bowersock 3, Rennels 4, O'Dell 4