By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SPRINGFIELD — The Effingham County boy basketball team picked a good time to get hot.
The Rebels extended their winning streak to four games with three victories last week, including key region wins over Brunswick and Glynn Academy to move into third place in the Region 2-AAAAAA standings with two region games left in the regular season.
“Once we lost to Richmond Hill the first time and Statesboro twice, the writing on the wall was, best-case scenario, we were playing for third,” ECHS coach Jake Darling said. “Brunswick and Glynn were the two games we needed.”
Finishing third in a seven-team region may not sound like much but, if the Rebels maintain their position, they would host a first-round region tournament game Feb. 12 against either Bradwell Institute or South Effingham — two teams that have struggled this season.
And a first-round tournament win would punch ECHS’ ticket to the Class 6A state tournament.
The region’s first and second-place teams get first-round byes and advance to the semifinals. Nos. 3-6 battle for the final two spots and the seventh-place team is eliminated.
No. 1 would be the host of the region Final Four.
“In our region meeting (during the preseason), we talked about giving some advantages to the higher-seeded teams,” Darling said. “There’s no reason for the No. 1 seed to host on a night they’re not playing so give that benefit to the No. 3 seed.”
But first things first. The Rebels broke away from a logjam in the middle of the region standings by defeating Brunswick 73-66 on Jan. 26 and going on the road to beat Glynn Academy 50-42 on Jan. 29.
The three teams are still just separated by one loss in the standings — ECHS 6-4, Glynn 5-4 and Brunswick 4-5 as of Jan. 31 — but the Rebels hold the tiebreakers if the three teams finish in a three-way deadlock after winning three of the four games head to head.
ECHS beat Brunswick twice and, despite a split with Glynn, holds the points differential tiebreaker over the Red Terrors after winning by eight on Jan. 29. The Rebels lost their first game against Glynn by two points.
The Terrors and Pirates still have chances but would be counting on unlikely scenarios.
In short, it means ECHS is in a good place despite missing one of its top scorers, Khiry Wallace, who suffered an elbow injury against Benedictine on Jan. 8.
ECHS (15-5 overall) has won five of seven games without Wallace.
The Rebels have made up the offensive loss by playing stingy defense. In a non-region matchup against Savannah Christian on Jan. 30, ECHS surrendered just 10 points in the first half and built a 19-point advantage en route to a 54-36 win.
Sophomore Rashad Scott, who was inserted into the starting lineup after Wallace’s injury, hit five 3-pointers and scored 17 points against SCPS. He had 20 points against Brunswick.
Another sophomore, Keion Wallace, Khiry’s younger brother, has continued his scoring surge (averaging 17 points a game last week) while adding ball handling and rebounding duties.
“We just have guys who battle it out,” Darling said. “We have guys who aren’t flashy. (Inside players Ashley Thompson and Timmy Brown) are going to set screens, get some baskets in the paint, maybe some free throws, but their work frees up Keion in the paint and allows Rashad to spot up.”
And junior point guard Caleb Williams seems to be getting better every time out. Williams had 10 of his 12 points in the second half against Glynn Academy.
Darling heaped praise on the medical training staff. Williams missed the South Effingham game because of a calf injury, but returned last week at full speed. Darling hopes the trainers can have Khiry Wallace ready for the postseason.
“Things are adding up and that’s just how we’re going to be this year,” Darling said.