Effingham’s Nate Thompson (23) goes up for a layup in the team’s dominating win over the Vandalia Vandals Saturday at Effingham High School

The Effingham Flaming Hearts tipped off their season Saturday, although not in the literal sense on their way to a 87-38 win over Vandalia.

“For us to come out and finally get on the court was good,” said Effingham head coach Obie Farmer. “It was good to get a win heading into conference play.”

While Farmer will gladly take the win, he says it’s tough to really evaluate the team’s performance since he’s not sure exactly where Vandalia stacks up.

“It’s hard to judge, especially with us not seeing any of our conference opponents, it’s hard for us to make that determination yet,” said Farmer. “But they did some good stuff. There’s always things that we need to fix.”

Under COVID-19 restrictions, there is no jump ball and the visiting team starts with possession.

Nate Thompson had a monster game for the Hearts, scoring the first four points of Effingham’s 10-0 run before Vandalia even got on the scoreboard.

A layup from Vandalia’s Case Goldsmith and a single made free throw from Connor Ray made it 10-3 before the Hearts ended the quarter on a 10-2, including five points from Thompson, giving him nine in the first quarter and helping put his team up 20-5 at the end of the first.

“Offensively, we got anything we wanted to find, as long as we took our time to find it,” said Farmer. “It’s hard for me to say we need to play better defense when you win by a lot, but we can’t fall into bad habits just because we have a lead.”

Parker Wolfe didn’t have the jumper going early, but was still effective getting to the rim and finishing in close as well as showing ferocity attacking the boards on both ends.

Jacob Stoneburner, who used to be a close-to-the-rim big man showed off his improvement handling the ball and his confidence in shooting from outside getting the second quarter started with a made 3-pointer, as well as attacking the boards and the physical play he’s been known for in the past.

“He does the same stuff in practice,” said Farmer. “He’s played a lot outside of high school basketball since last season. He played some travel ball and AAU and that worked out pretty well for him.

“His game has evolved. He’s more comfortable handling it. You think two years back when we’re in a regional championship game, he’s our five man, telling him not to shoot and just protect the ball. Now, he’s a spot up shooter, can handle the ball and attack the basket, plus rebound and play defense.”

Thompson was on full attack mode in the second quarter, scoring 10 points, all off layups, as part of a 13-0 run from the Hearts that also included made threes from Wolfe and Brayden Pals.

The Hearts put a pretty big lineup out there most of the night. Thompson, Pals and Stoneburner all spent time playing center at one point or another last season. With each of them stepping their game up coming into the season, that puts three guys that are good at rebounding out there at any given moment. That’s in addition to Parker Wolfe, who had 10 rebounds at halftime.

“When we put those three guys out there, we’re hoping to get 30 rebounds out of three of them,” said Farmer. “Nate might get 20 of them and the other two might get five. That’s fine, at least we got 30. Plus whatever Parker or Garrett or anyone off the bench chips in. That’s icing on the cake.”

While Pals had just three points on the evening, he made his presence felt on the defensive end. He finished with four blocked shots and even more shots that he affected.

“For me, [Brayden] is very reminiscent of Cole Marxman two years ago,” said Farmer. “If you remember, we could pressure the ball pretty good. If we got beat, Cole was there to erase our mistakes most of the time. We could take more risks, try to pick off passes. Then, when they attack, now you’re looking at a 6-8 shot blocker.”

After a Vandalia three in the closing minutes of the first half, Garrett Wolfe and Parker Wolfe connected on a pair of threes to help the Flaming Hearts go into the locker room up 47-16 at halftime. Parker Wolfe had 15 points and 10 rebounds in the first half.

Thompson connected on a three to open the second half, but Vandalia was able to keep pace a bit more in the third, not really letting Effingham extend its lead.

But that changed after Thompson evaded a defender in position for a charge with a crafty euro-step followed by a breakaway dunk to put the Hearts up 62-29.

Parker Wolfe closed out the quarter scoring a pair of layups, adding to a three he hit earlier in the period.

The starters came back out for the opening minutes of the fourth quarter. Parker Wolfe started with a pair of makes at the charity stripe, followed by an easy layup off a stolen pass to give him 26 on the night. Thompson also got a layup to go, giving him 31 for the game.

With just under six minutes remaining, Farmer took out the starters and put in the second unit. But the second unit was fresh and was able to execute. Jett Volpi drilled a three, followed by putbacks from Jakob Logan and Dalton Fox, respectively.

With the score 80-38, the Hearts closed the game on a 7-0 run with layups from Thad Dillow and Quest Hull, respectively, before Armando Estrada drilled a three to put the finishing touches on the game and help the Hearts to their first win of the season.

Thompson led all scorers with 31, Parker Wolfe finished with 26, Stoneburner seven, Garrett Wolfe five, Fox, Volpi, Estrada, and Pals each scored three. Hull and Logan each scored two.

Up next, the Hearts hit the road for an Apollo Conference contest with Mattoon Tuesday.

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