CHARLESTON — For the sixth year in a row, the Charleston Lady Trojans and Effingham Lady Hearts battled it out at Baker Gym, each trying to clinch the championship title in the annual Charleston Holiday Tournament. The Lady Trojans pulled off an upset victory during the 25th holiday tourney, winning the championship title for the second time against the undefeated Hearts.
The Lady Trojans faced the Hearts earlier this month, with it being their only loss of the season thus far. They didn’t let this get to their heads, as they pulled off an upset victory to beat the undefeated Hearts 67-57. The Lady Trojans came into the matchup with their game faces on, gaining early momentum on a 9-point run that started on freshman Shae Littleford’s layup in the first 30 seconds.
Littleford’s efforts continued in the first quarter, with an assist to senior Hope Griffin to score a layup of her own just 30 seconds later.
Ahead 4-0, the Trojans continued to stand their ground early against the Hearts as Littleford made a steal and bucket to push the lead to 6-0. Shortly later, Charleston junior Bernie Jackson scored the team’s first 3-pointer to lead with 9 unanswered points.
The Hearts responded with just three minutes left in the quarter with a layup from junior Carsyn Fearday. Charleston’s defense continued to excel in the quarter, only allowing Effingham to score 5 more points to maintain a 17-7 lead heading into the second quarter.
In the second, Effingham’s offense began to warm up and it showed on the scoreboard. Reducing the large point margin, the Hearts inched closer and closer by taking advantage of Charleston’s mistakes and executing some offensive plays of their own.
The Charleston squad managed to pull through as a team while halftime approached quickly, with a Littleford assist to junior Regan Bollant leading to a 3-pointer which gave the Trojans a 34-21 lead.
In the third, senior Paige Swango got the team rolling once again with her fourth 3-pointer of the night just 30 seconds into the second half. Only a minute later, Swango contributed again with an assist to Littleford’s 3-pointer to give the team a 21-point lead.
Effingham’s Fearday responded in the last minutes of the third with 3-pointers of her own, giving the team a boost of energy and hope and helping to cut away at Charleston’s lead. At the end of the third, Charleston was up by only 8 points.
The Charleston squad didn’t rest in the fourth, putting pressure on the Effingham defense to maintain its lead until the final buzzer. The holiday rivalry game concluded on a missed Charleston free throw, but the Trojans managed to win the game by 10 points to allow them to claim their hard-fought Championship trophy.
Charleston head coach Jeff Miller said the team clinched the win by executing plays throughout the night. “We talked prior to the game just about having a complete game,” Miller said. “We’ve just not put together 32 minutes all year – we’ve had good games but not a complete game.” Miller reflected on the team’s battle against Effingham, stating this was “pretty close to a complete game.”
Miller was pleased with the team’s overall performance and efforts against the Hearts. “As they say, we weathered the storms and fought through a little adversity towards the end of the game,” Miller said. “We shot the ball really well tonight, and our defense played as well as we have all year.”
While celebrating the team’s victory, Miller also mentioned some improvements the team needs to make for the rest of the season. “The only thing I think we could do better is more loose balls, the 50-50 balls, but this is the closest we’ve got to a complete game this season,” Miller said.
For her performance during the tournament, Swango was honored as the 2017 Most Valuable Player of the Charleston Holiday Tournament. Swango commented on her team’s accomplishment and how they managed to pull through with a win. “It feels great to finally win it. We started the game really well by playing good defense,” Swango said. “That was our key tonight.”
Littleford was honored for her tourney efforts as well, earning a spot on the All-Tournament team. Littleford reflected on the team’s success and mentioned the teamwork that allowed them to clinch the win. “I think we were really prepared, and we knew what we had to do tonight,” Littleford said. “We just played our game.”
This title win was the second for the Trojans in school history, as they won previously against Effingham in 2015. To ring in the new year, the Charleston squad moves on to host Taylorville on Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, at 7:30 p.m.