Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

February 26, 2013

Forget March Madness, February has held plenty of surprises

Braden Layer
Effingham Daily News

EFFINGHAM — For those anxiously waiting to see the men's NCAA tournament field kick off its annual month of basketball mayhem, take a deep breath and appreciate the craziness that this season's IHSA regional play has produced.

You know the old adage, that on any given night, anyone can beat anyone. Well, after witnessing the first week of regional play, never has that phrase rung more true. 

A trio of area teams reversed roles against foes that bested them earlier in the season, while another fell short to an opposing squad that they dominated months prior. In any case, it's been a wild ride through the first few rounds of postseason play, and if anything can be learned from this week's action, it's that nobody is safe.

Take Stew-Stras, for example, which had the task of trying to beat a Windsor team for the third time in as many games this year. Back in November, the Comets took care of the Blue Devils with relative ease, beating Windsor 89-46. Christian Vonderheide and Justin Fulk scored 22 points apiece for Stew-Stras, and Vonderheide connected on seven 3-pointers in the blowout. Then, on Dec. 14, Stew-Stras overwhelmed the Blue Devils again, winning 75-55 on Windsor's home floor.

But on Tuesday at the Dieterich Regional, it was an entirely different story. Windsor guard Alex Allen scored a career-high 23 points as the Blue Devils repeatedly drove into the heart of the Comets' defense. Windsor connected on 28 of 40 free throws in the contest, shocking the third-seeded Comets 63-58. The win gave the sixth-seeded Blue Devils just their fifth win of the season.

Newton had been a contender in every game it played this season, yet the Eagles couldn't quite get over the Casey-Westfield hump. Twice the Warriors of Casey-Westfield had defeated the Eagles, including a 74-61 victory in the LIC Tournament title on Jan. 25. Standing one win away from its first-ever LIC Tournament crown, Newton never led in the 13-point defeat.

Once again, however, postseason play bucked the recent trend. Newton won every quarter against the Warriors as the host team on Wednesday, including a 25-15 mark in the decisive fourth period to claim the 84-63 victory. Dylan Davidson led the Eagles with 27 points, as Newton surprised the Warriors in a 21-point victory that few saw coming.

Three days after falling short 50-43 to Beecher City, St. Elmo flipped the switch on Monday in its first round of regional action as the host squad, topping Beecher City 42-33 in the battle of the Eagles.

Teams are entirely different come February than they were when the first game tipped off more than three months ago. Injuries, coaching adjustments and the ability of squads to gel as a unit all play a significant part in how a team is able to weather the storm of a typical high school season.

St. Anthony picked up its first win of the Vandalia Holiday Tournament back on Dec. 29 against Greenville. The Bulldogs led 15-5 after one quarter and cruised to a 66-40 final score. Jacob Schuette and Neil Williams combined to drop 52 points for St. Anthony, scoring 26 and 16 points, respectively.

That total would be more than the entire Bulldog team scored in their second matchup against the Comets, as St. Anthony came up short in a 51-40 season-ending defeat on Monday at the Hillsboro Regional.  

With regional play completed, and a pair of local teams moving on to sectional action in North Clay and Teutopolis, the term "favorite" may have never meant so little. With a handful of shocking upsets in the first week of postseason play alone, fans should again be sitting on the edge of their seats for week two. In February, as in March, anything can happen.

Braden Layer can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or at braden.layer@effinghamdailynews.com