CHARLESTON — Bernie Jackson always believed in this team.
“We have such a great team dynamic. I always have believed in us,” said Jackson.
More in the area might start riding the belief train too after what Charleston accomplished. Charleston’s No. 8 ranking in Class 3A is likely to change after defeating the No. 5 ranked team in Class 2A Teutopolis 56-42 in the championship game of the 26th Annual Charleston Holiday Tournament at Baker Gym to push the Lady Trojans to 18-0 on the season.
The championship trophy was Charleston’s third in four years and also included wins over Tri-County (No. 5 in Class 1A) and Effingham (No. 14 in Class 3A) as well as Central State 8 Conference contender Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin.
Shae Littleford led Charleston with 18 points and was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament. Bollant and Hannah Buescher were also named to the 10-member all-tournament team.
Tri-County fell to Effingham 54-49 in the third-place game to finish the tournament in fourth place.
Tayler Barry was named to the all-tournament team for the Lady Titans.
Charleston 56, Teutopolis 42
In the back-and-forth first half, Charleston led by as much as 6 points in the first quarter, but Teutopolis fought back to trail just 18-15 at the conclusion of the quarter. Charleston took a turn in the second quarter after Bollant’s third 3-pointer of the first half extended the lead back to 6.
After a Teutopolis basket, Charleston began to heat up with baskets from Shae Littleford and Bernie Jackson. Another trey from Littleford and the lead was as high as 29-18.
“Our passing really helped,” said Jackson. “It was not just one person trying to shoot. Not just one person playing for herself. Everyone was hitting. It was a good day for everyone.”
The Lady Trojan defense turned up the pressure on Teutopolis as the Lady Wooden Shoes only scored 8 points in the second quarter, trailing 31-23 at halftime.
“We play pretty good defense altogether,” said Charleston coach Jeff Miller. “Our ball pressure was pretty good. Our help side was pretty good. You have to play that quality of defense when you play a historic program in the area like Teutopolis.”
The script was switched at the start of the second half. The aggressive Teutopolis man-to-man defense kept Charleston on its heels. Elizabeth Buescher’s basket with 4:11 in the third was their first field goal of the second half, but Charleston’s defense was able to hold Teutopolis to just one field goal as Charleston pushed the lead back to 8.
After a timeout, Teutopolis scored three quick baskets from three different players, and T-Town quickly cut the deficit to a 33-31 CHS lead.
Just when Charleston needed a big play, Littleford scored 4 straight points, and then set up a layup for Elizabeth Buescher, and a jump shot by Jackson and Charleston roared back to take a 41-34 lead going into the final frame.
“It means a lot when you have a playmaker like Shae on your team,” said Jackson. “She opens up the floor. People will double team her. She always has her head up and makes great diagonal passes to the post or to our guards on the perimeter.
After a Morgan Mette layup to cut the lead to 5, Bollant swished a trey in response. Littleford followed that possession with a steal and a long 2-point jump shot to give Charleston the 46-36 lead with 5:46 to play. When Teutopolis cut the deficit to 7, it was Jackson that came up with the big time 3-point shot to push the lead to 11 with 3:30 to play.
Jackson came up huge on the other end with a steal that turned into a layup for Littleford to give CHS a 52-39 lead with under 1:31 to play. Then, it was the senior captain in Jackson to flush through two more free throws to close out the game with a 56-40 lead and finish a 16-point, five-rebound night.
“Bernie had an amazing game,” said Miller. “She played some of the best post defense that I have seen in a long time. She had a complete game.”
Littleford led Charleston with 18 points.
The win is also Miller, who is in his 12th season, the first time he has coached Charleston to a win over perennial power Teutopolis.
“This has to be one of the best girls basketball tournaments in the state of Illinois,” said Miller. “With how many state-ranked teams. I don’t care if it is 1A, 2A, or 3A. The amount of quality teams is some of the most top-notch girls basketball around. For us to walk out of here with five wins really says something. I am just so proud of our girls for what they have accomplished these three days.”
Effingham 54, Tri-County 49
Tri-County was looking to deliver Effingham’s third consecutive loss for the first time since the 2015-2016 season after both teams lost two games on Friday.
Tri-County had Effingham on the ropes in the first quarter leading by as much as 16-7. Six quick points from Grace Burnside and two 3-point shots from Tayler Barry cemented the lead. However, Burnside was forced to sit after picking up her third foul with 2:36 left in the first quarter.
Effingham used the momentum swing to fight back with a 7-0 run to close the quarter to trail 16-14. Effingham stayed in control, taking their first lead at 19-18 after a trey from Abby Weis. Tri-County’s guards in Tayler and Harley Barry were held to 0 points in the quarter as Effingham built a 27-20 lead before going into the halftime locker room with a 5-point advantage.
Effingham’s Carsyn Fearday took over in the third quarter. Back-to-back-to-back 3-point shots from the senior built an 11-point lead, but Tri-County’s Bella Dudley hit back-to-back 3-points to keep the Lady Titans within 7 points. After a basket from Kiersten Price-Wilson, Tri-County trailed just 43-38 going into the final frame.
Tri-County’s run stretched over with another basket from Harley Barry to cut the lead to 3 points, and then tie the game with 6:51 remaining. After a basket from Fearday gave Effingham back the lead, Dudley’s layup in transition tied the game again with 4:45 left to play.
“Grace is an incredible defender, but with foul trouble, Bella had to step in,” said Tri-County coach Joe Morrisey. “Bella is coming up to speed. She is just a freshman. She was scoring 35 points a game in junior high because it was easy. It’s different basketball now and she is realizing that. She played really well.”
Effingham led by as much as 4 points with under two minutes to play, but Harley Barry’s strip, steal and bucket made it a one-possession game with 1:51 left to play. Trailing 51-49, Tri-County had a chance to tie, but Tayler Barry’s layup rimmed out. On the next possession, Harley Barry fouled out with 1:17 left to play.
Tri-County had two different chances to tie the game, but both shots under the basket never fell. Effingham gave Tri-County one more opportunity after missing a front end of the one and one with under 20 seconds left, but a turnover on the sideline inbounds was costly and Effingham’s Natalie Carie hit both free throws to close it out.
“Effingham is a strong, physical team,” said Morrisey. “Tayler should have went for the ball more aggressively. Maiya was not expecting the ball. We wanted Bella to take the shot. It’s just the little things, a learning experience. Hopefully, Tayler gets more aggressive.”
Dudley led the Lady Titans with a season-high 16 points, while Harley Barry added 14 points. Tri-County fell to 14-3 on the season after going 2-3 in the tournament. The Lady Titans left the tournament with some hardware with their fourth-place finish, but potentially some confidence too as all three losses were to state-recognized teams.
“I was talking to Charleston’s coach Miller and I was saying what a learning experience,” said Morrisey. “We were forced to do things we were not used to. We love to play our 1-3-1 zone, but we had to play a lot more man. That was the main reason we came here, to help us in the Regional and hopefully the Sectional. This was great for us, and hopefully we learn from it.”