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Rebels beat Tigers in OT, earn tournament bye
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By Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald

SPRINGFIELD – Effingham County’s boys are so hot right now their 78-73 action-packed, overtime win against Bradwell Institute last Friday night had the effect of winning twice.

With the victory, the Rebels (16-7) clinched at least a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed heading into this week’s Region 2-AAAAAA tournament and will not have to compete in a play-in game to get to the Feb. 15 region semifinals.

South Effingham’s girls (10-13) already know their fate. They will start with a play-in game on the road Thursday night. A win propels them to the Feb. 14 semifinals.

With a game left in the region regular season Tuesday, there is still some potential movement in the standings so venues and opponents are still up in the air. No. 1 seeds will host the semifinals and finals.

“We talked all year about setting ourselves up for the road to the playoffs,” ECHS boys coach Jake Darling said. “It’s never going to be easy, but a home game would make it more enjoyable, more fun, more comfortable.”

That’s the next goal for the Rebels – playing postseason games at home. ECHS has an outside chance of hosting the boys region semifinals and finals, but need the combination of a win against Richmond Hill and a Statesboro loss to Brunswick on Tuesday.

Regardless of their seeding, if the Rebels win their semifinal region game, they would be at home for the first round of the Class AAAAAA state tournament.

Many of ECHS’ region tournament scenarios cleared up after the hard-fought, physical battle with the improved Tigers in a nearly packed Rebel gym on Senior Night.

And during the weekend, ECHS continued to find new and exciting ways to win while extending a streak of 13 victories in its last 14 games.

The Rebels let an eight-point lead slip away in the final minutes against Bradwell before scoring the last four points to send the game to overtime.

The next night against Portal, they scored the final 10 points to capture another nailbiter, 50-48.

Senior point guard Caleb Williams did his part against Bradwell with a game-high 20 points, eight coming in overtime. Williams had the game-tying basket with 29 seconds to go in regulation to make it 66-66 and made a key jumper and added six free throws in the four-minute overtime.

Keion Wallace had 19 points, Khiry Wallace had 16 (all in the second half) and Rashad Scott scored 11.

“It was a great environment, an exciting game, but I wish we could have played better down the stretch,” said Darling, whose squad surrendered 12 points within 96 seconds and an eight-point lead 62-54 with 2:34 to go suddenly became a 66-62 deficit with 58 seconds left.

But Williams, a 5-foot-8 point guard, came up big – first, with an assist to Khiry Wallace for an uncontested layup before driving to the basket for the layup that sent the game to overtime.

Darling saw positives in surviving against the Tigers. ECHS lost the first game with Bradwell 75-66 in overtime on Jan. 11.

It’s very possible the two teams can meet again.

“In region tournaments, sometimes the officials will let the kids play (not call too many fouls) so it was a warmup for that,” Darling said.