By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON – In crunch time Friday night, the Effingham County boys did what they do best – defend.
The Rebels held cross-county rival South Effingham to one field goal during a nearly 10-minute span of the second half to pull away from the Mustangs 66-53 in a packed gym at SEHS.
An enthusiastic crowd, building to capacity before the end of the girls game, see-sawed its energy as both teams made big runs to produce seven first-half lead changes.
But midway through the third quarter, ECHS put a stop to the upset bid.
Actually, several stops.
The Rebels went on a 21-7 run and a 37-32 game with 5:26 left in the third quarter turned into a 58-39 runaway with 3:42 left.
ECHS defended its long winning streak in the series, now up to 31 games (going back to Jan. 6, 2007), while upping its record to 11-3, 1-0 in Region 2-6A, with a clash against Lakeside Evans on Jan. 9 before meeting defending 6A champion Grovetown in Springfield on Friday the 13th.
“We have to play better,” Rebels coach Travis Priddy said. “We came out flat and then played well for two quarters. We have to put four quarters together, especially in region play, or you can lose a game like this very easily.”
But defense and balanced scoring win a lot of high school games. The Rebels have surrendered only 42 points a game this season and their depth was on display when seven different players scored during their game-winning run against the Mustangs.
Keion Wallace had 13 points to lead ECHS. Jeremiah “Paco” Lee had 12 and Jordan Goldwire 10. Hayden Eason had eight points and Rashad Scott and Timmy Brown each had seven.
ECHS fell behind 14-9 at the start, forcing Priddy to call a timeout. The Rebels regrouped with 10 straight points and the momentum shifted.
“We just have to get tougher. We get to the spots, we’re just not converting,” Mustangs coach Rico Campbell said. “Effingham County was more patient. They took the shots they wanted and I thought we began to force a little.”
Campbell’s son Isaiah, a 6-foot-2 senior point guard, finished with a game-high 23 points, but his next highest scoring teammate had seven points.
“Like I told (my players), this is the second season (region play), then we’ll have the third season (region tournament) and hopefully go on to state,” Rico Campbell said. “I feel like if we clean up the stuff we need to work on, we should be alright.”
Optimism swirling around SEHS’ program may have prompted one of the biggest crowds in the Guyton gym in years. After winning only three games last season, the Mustangs (6-8) are already up to six with half their schedule remaining.
“It was a great atmosphere. The fans were into it and came out with great energy,” Priddy said. “It was a great rivalry game for a Friday night.”
Fans won’t have to wait too long for the rematch. ECHS and SEHS meet again Jan. 20 in Springfield.