Effingham didn't play poorly in the first half against Mascoutah on Wednesday night, but the Hearts managed to let their opponents hang around in the early parts of the game.
Coach Ron Reed's squad shot 45 percent from the floor in the opening two quarters, but led just 19-14 at the break to create a little bit of tension for the Effingham faithful.
That was until the third quarter, when Effingham (22-6) connected on its first five shots from inside the arc, and shot a blistering 80 percent from the floor to create some breathing room and a double-digit lead.
Senior guard Hunter Keith dominated the second half for Effingham, scoring all 13 of his points in the final two quarters to lead the Hearts to a 47-30 win over the Indians (10-16) in the Centralia Regional semifinals.
"He's a three-year starter," Reed said, "and he's done a great job. At times he's been able to do that for us. I thought Hunter kind of took over."
Ahead by a handful after the first half, Keith started the second-half barrage with his mid-air adjustment for a tough layup. Jake Stombaugh, limited to two points in the first half, scored on two straight Effingham possessions after Keith's tricky bucket, the second on an elbow jumper to give the Hearts a 25-16 advantage.
But Stombaugh picked up his fourth foul immediately thereafter, and was sidelined midway through the third.
"I was really worried when Jake picked up his fourth foul," Reed said. "He was really coming on and getting in a rhythm."
Without Stombaugh, Keith was like a missile toward the basket. He scored four straight points for Effingham off a nice feed from Leighton Lark and another acrobatic layup to extend the Hearts' lead to 12. With Lark crashing the basket one possession later, Keith returned the favor, hitting his teammate for an easy bucket slicing down the middle of the paint.
The final bucket from Lark capped off an incredible display of shooting for Effingham in the third. The Hearts made 8 of 9 shots inside the 3-point arc, including the first five of their attempts at the rim. Effingham missed its only 3-point attempt of the period to finish the quarter at the ridiculous 80 percent mark.
The offensive attack helped extend the Hearts' seven-point lead to 14 with under one minute to play in the third, before Marshall Moore's 3-ball for Mascoutah made it 35-24 in favor of Effingham with one quarter to play.
"I knew this game would be a battle," Reed said. "[Mascoutah] is a physical ballclub. We won every quarter by a few points to extend the lead."
The fourth was no different, as Effingham stretched the lead to 17 off Keith's 3-pointer on the opening possession. Mascoutah would inch no closer than 14 in the final quarter, falling victim to Effingham's ability to create quality shots and limit its turnovers.
"I thought our kids did a good job in that regard," Reed said, "We only had six turnovers."
Keith's 13-point effort was a team-high for Effingham, and Lark added 10 points and five rebounds of his own. Stombaugh and Clark Williamson scored six points apiece for the Hearts as they slowly pulled away.
The beginning of the game looked cause for concern, however, as the Hearts found themselves down 6-0 only 90 seconds into the ballgame. But behind the effort of Williamson down low, the Hearts flipped the switch on the Indians to take a 10-9 lead after one that they wouldn't relinquish.
"I thought that was very big, it took a little bit of the pressure off." Reed said. "Clark got a bucket to get us going, then a steal, and we were able to get back in the game. It was important for us."
Reed will need every ounce of Williamson's effort, and the rest of his team, to get past a familiar foe in the Centralia Regional final. The Hearts advanced to Friday's title game with the win, where Effingham will take on the host Orphans (20-8). Effingham fell to Centralia 55-38 back on Dec. 29, but Reed believes it should be a different story in round two.
"They played very well, and we didn't play as well as we were capable," he said. "Hopefully we come in and play a little bit better, it can be a great game between two quality teams."
Tip is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Effingham 47, Mascoutah 30
Mascoutah 9 5 10 6 - 30
Effingham 10 9 16 12 - 47
Mascoutah- Moore 8, King 7, Parks 6, Limuel 4, Nelson 3, Oltmann 2.
Effingham- Keith 13, Lark 10, Ja. Stombaugh 6, Williamson 6, Carie 4, Frey 3, Gardewine 2, Mahaffey 2, Niebrugge 1.