For the Daily News
CENTRALIA — Trenton Frey’s play Thursday during Effingham’s opening game at the 70th Annual Centralia Holiday Tournament pretty much summed up the Hearts’ day.
Despite facing an early eight-point hole against a talented Redbirds team, Frey and the Hearts refused to back down.
Frey took a pair of charges in the second quarter, helping his team stay within striking distance after a shaky start.
Effingham (7-2) then battled back to take the lead for good with a 10-0 run to start the fourth quarter and held on late for a 46-43 come-from-behind win, setting up a quarterfinal showdown with top-seeded Cahokia (8-2) today at 2 p.m.
Frey fully intended on taking a third charge in the waning seconds in order to deny Alton a game-tying basket and a shot at overtime redemption, but it turns out he wouldn’t need to.
Alton’s Tyrome Parker beat his defender and had his sights set on a game-tying layup with less than five seconds to go, but Frey stepped into Parker’s path and stood his ground. Parker collided with Frey and both players went sprawling to the floor, but there was no whistle on the play.
Jake Stombaugh was fouled after corralling the deflected ball. He hit 1 of 2 free throws, and Alton’s desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer was well off.
Had Frey been whistled for a foul on the play, Alton very well could have tied the game at the line. But Frey and the EHS coaching staff had no intention on giving Alton anything easy in the closing seconds, and it paid off.
“Coming out of the timeout, (assistant) coach (Charlie) Schwerman was like, ‘Let’s get a third (charge),’” Frey said. “I saw (Parker) get by (his defender), so I just stepped up and tried to take another one. I figured there would be a whistle, but it was coming down late in the game and they may not have wanted to call a foul.”
Effingham coach Ron Reed agreed with Frey’s assessment of the non-call.
“I’ve been on both sides of it,” Reed said. “Fortunately for us, we got the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes it’s one of those things where they want the teams to dictate what happens. But I thought, overall, the (referees) did a good job. It was a tough game to call.”
The controversial non-call helped EHS avoid blowing a nine-point lead in the final 3 1⁄2 minutes of the game. Then again, the thought the Hearts would have a nine-point fourth quarter lead to blow would have seemed highly unlikely based on the first three quarters of action.
Alton enjoyed a comfortable lead for a majority of the game, but Effingham started chipping away at the Redbirds lead in the second half and finally overtook Alton when Tim Gardewine hit a baby hook shot in the lane to start the second half, putting Effingham up for the first time, 33-32.
Josh Stombaugh — who came up with 11 big points off the bench — followed with a 3-pointer that was set up nicely by a Hunter Keith feed.
He hit another 3 moments later, getting set up this time by a pass from twin brother Jake. Keith then got a spinning shot in the lane to fall, and Effingham suddenly found itself up 41-32.
“We really did a nice job and I thought we got some excellent looks,” said Reed of the 10-0 run in which EHS went 4 for 7 from the field, while Alton was 0 for 4.
The Redbirds stopped the bleeding with a bucket at the three-minute mark, but appeared on the verge of a full-blown meltdown after Carlos Anderson was assessed a technical after being whistled for an offensive foul with 1:40 to go.
Effingham couldn’t fully capitalize, however, as Alex Carie hit 1 of 2 free throws and Larry Givens hit a 3-pointer after a Hearts turnover to make it a one-possession game, 44-41, with just under a minute remaining.
The Hearts then missed an ill-advised quick shot on their next possession, and a pair of Parker free throws cut EHS’s lead to just one with 27 seconds to go.
Leighton Lark was fouled in the backcourt as he was falling down with 22 seconds remaining, but the junior forward converted on 1 of 2 free throws, giving Alton a chance to hold for a last shot and potentially win it on a 3-pointer.
Fortunately, Parker decided to drive the lane instead, and Frey and the Hearts held on.
Alton enjoyed a 14-6 lead after the opening quarter of play and EHS trailed 25-19 at intermission. The Hearts were a different team after the break, however.
“We shook off the rust a little bit,” said Reed, whose team hadn’t played since Dec. 14. “We had about a two-week layoff with finals and all that. That was part of the problem. Also, I thought we adjusted to their quickness a little bit better. I thought the guys did a nice job of attacking better and looking for their shots. We were tentative in the first quarter.”
It also helped that EHS started taking care of the ball. The Hearts had just four turnovers in the final 16 minute of play after coughing the ball up 12 times in the first half.
“The second half I don’t think we made near as many turnovers as that first half,” Frey said. “We were turning the ball over left and right at the start of the game. We weren’t picking up the pressure very well.”
Josh Stombaugh and Frey led a valiant effort by EHS’s reserves. Stombaugh hit 3 of 4 3-pointers, while Frey had four points and forced three of Alton’s 14 turnovers by taking charges. Reed wound up playing 10 players.
“I thought our bench really helped out a lot,” Reed said. “Josh came off the bench and had three 3s and played very well. And Trent came in off the bench and got two big charges for us in the second quarter.”
Williamson had a team-high 12 points for EHS, while Keith had eight points, seven rebounds and four assists.
EHS will now look forward to the challenge of trying to upset the high-powered Comanches. Led by long-range specialist Keenan Minor and 6-foot-7 swingman Darius Austin — both Division I prospects — Cahokia is expected to make a state-tournament run this year. The Comanches cruised by Champaign Centennial in their CHT opener.
“It’s gonna be a tough game against those guys with those big recruits,” Frey said.
Effingham 46, Alton 43
Alton 14 11 7 11 — 43
Effingham 6 13 12 15 — 46
Alton — Brown 4-12 2-2 12, Anderson 4-9 1-2 10, Givens 3-4 0-0 8, Womack 2-4 3-4 7, Parker 1-6 4-5 6, McLemore 0-2 0-2 0, Thurmond 0-2 0-0 0, Hill 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 14-40 10-15 43.
Effingham — Williamson 6-9 0-0 12, Jo.Stombaugh 4-5 0-0 11, Keith 4-9 0-0 8, Lark 2-4 1-2 5, Frey 1-2 2-2 4, Ja.Stombaugh 1-7 1-3 3, Gardewine 1-2 0-0 2, Carie 0-2 1-2 1, Mahaffey 0-0 0-0 0, Daugherty 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-40 5-9 46.
3-point goals — Alton 5-16 (Brown 2-5, Anderson 1-2, Givens 2-2, Parker 0-4, Thurmond 0-2, Hill 0-1), Effingham 3-8 (Jo.Stombaugh 3-4, Keith 0-2, Carie 0-2). Rebounds — Alton 22 (Anderson 9), Effingham 23 (Ja.Stombaugh 8, Keith 7). Turnovers — Effingham 16, Alton 14. Personal Fouls — Alton 16, Effingham 12.