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Eagles take fifth at VHT after thriller vs. Wesclin

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By Andrew Harner

An extremely hard-fought defensive stand over the final 25 seconds of the fifth-place game at the Vandalia Holiday Tournament last Thursday allowed St. Elmo to come away with a narrow 53-52 victory against Wesclin.

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The Warriors thought they had several good looks at the basket during their final possession, but each time a player prepared to take a shot, they found a St. Elmo defender nearby.

“The group we had out there at the end played the hardest 30 seconds of defense that I’ve seen them play,” said Eagles coach Greg Feezel. “We had a foul to give, and I should have seen that, but at least we won.”

That defensive stand is the last memory the Eagles will have of the tournament, but defense is without question going to be of primary focus during practices before the next game.

The Eagles (9-3) used a potent offense to get a 16-0 run during the first quarter to take a 10-point lead, which remained at nine by halftime, but hidden behind that lead was that Wesclin scored on nine of its 12 second-quarter possessions.

“In the first half, we were scoring, so it didn’t look so bad,” Feezel said. “After we quit scoring, we just couldn’t guard anybody. I don’t know what was going on.”

The Eagles quit scoring in the third period, netting just five points, and the defensive woes showed, as the Warriors scored in their final five possessions of the quarter, and a jumper by Michael Klein at the buzzer gave Wesclin a 44-43 lead.

That lead would grow to as many points as five, but the Eagles would use an 8-2 run – including four free throws from senior Jake Mansker – to take a one-point lead with 2:24 left in the game.

Senior Ben Sperry, who had a team-high 12 points, would make a layup 1:08 later, and Wesclin answered just 16 seconds later. That, however, would be the last scoring of the game to give the Eagles a win.

“If I could ever get this team to play the defense that they were playing at the end of last year, we’ll be all right,” Feezel said. “But right now, we’ve got to answer the bell defensively.”

He said the problems are coming individually, as several players have been trying to do too much on the defensive end, which has allowed opponents to dribble around them. Feezel did say that the team’s help defense has been effective.

That’s not to say it was all negative for the Eagles at the tournament, however, as beating a Class 2A school in a tight game will benefit St. Elmo when it comes back to the National Trail Conference for many of its second-half games.

“We hope that now these boys will understand that we have played physical ball,” Feezel said. “We would have lost some of these games last year, and being able to win these games will help us.”

Thursday, Dec. 29
Fifth-place game
St. Elmo 53
Wesclin 52

SEHS: 18-20-5-10—53
WHS: 10-19-15-8—52
Elmo points: Sperry, 12; Pruett, 10; Maxey, 9; Mansker, 8; Beasley, 7; Scholes, 7.
Elmo rebounds: Beasley, 11; Sperry, 4; Maxey, 2; Pruett, 2; Schaal, 2.
Wesclin points: Wilken, 17; M. Klein, 14; Kunz, 8; Deterding, 7; C. Klain, 2; Rieger, 2; Sopiars, 2.
Wesclin rebounds: M. Klein, 13; Deterding, 7; Kunz, 6; Sopiars, 4; Wilken, 4; C. Klein, 1; Rieger, 1; Smith, 1.

St. Elmo vs. Shelbyville
An 11-0 run over the final four minutes of the first half gave the Eagles momentum during a 64-51 win against Shelbyville at the Vandalia Holiday Tournament last Wednesday.

It also didn’t hurt that St. Elmo committed just two turnovers during the game.

“They were sick of me talking about it,” Feezel said. “They got rode pretty hard about the turnovers the past few days. They know they are unacceptable, and I said, ‘You have to cherish the basketball,’ and they took it to heart, evidently.”

Both turnovers were steals by the Rams.

St. Elmo trailed for the first 3:06, and the Eagles were unable to build their lead to more than five points until they used an 11-0 run to end the first half.

Senior Ben Sperry sparked the run by scoring five points in less than a minute, and senior Blaine Scholes, who had a game-high 19 points, ended the run by hitting a 3-pointer with 13 seconds left in the second period.

Scholes had also hit a pair of 3-pointers early in the first quarter, sparking the Eagles’ offense. In the first three games of tournament, Scholes had averaged just 4.7 points per game.

“He’s been shooting pretty well, but he was frustrated,” Feezel said. “I’m glad he got going, and gave us a spark.”

The Eagles had a consistent offensive output throughout the second half, but Shelbyville actually scored two more points than St. Elmo in the final two periods.

Feezel said that his preference is for his team not to have to score 60 points, even though he knows the players are perfectly capable of it.

On the season, St. Elmo has scored 60 or more points five times, and each time, the offense started the game well.

“We moved the ball better, and our shooters were ready to shoot today,” Feezel said. “We got some confidence with a couple of shots, and things started going better for us.”

The Eagles finished the tournament with a 3-2 record, having defeated Stew-Stras, as well, while suffering losses to Pana and Vandalia.

Feezel said that mark was good considering the high level of competition at the tournament, and he was grateful to be invited back for the second straight season.

“I want to thank everyone at Vandalia for putting this tournament on,” he said. “It’s a great tournament, and they do an excellent job. I don’t know if there is any other tournament better competition-wise, especially this year.”

Wednesday, Dec 28
St. Elmo 64
Shelbyville 51

SEHS: 16-23-16-9—64
SHS:   15-9-17-10—51
Elmo points: Scholes, 19; Beasley, 15; Pruett, 9; Sperry, 9; Mansker, 6; Bartels, 2; Maxey, 2; Schaal, 2.
Elmo rebounds: Beasley, 5; Maxey, 3; Scholes, 3; Sperry, 3; Mansker, 2; Bartels, 1; Pruett, 1.
Shelby points: Standerfer, 16; Bence, 14; Shadwell, 8; Breeden, 7; Eloe, 3; Schwengel, 3.
Shelby rebounds: Standerfer, 6; Eloe, 4; Bence, 2; Breeden, 2; Yockey, 2; Furr, 1; Koewn, 1; Lee, 1.