By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SPRINGFIELD — Just after his team scored a season-high 76 points Saturday night, Effingham County coach Jake Darling pointed to the defense as the key to a six-game winning streak.
“Our defense has been pretty good,” Darling said. “I think we have our rotation where we want it.”
And those are good signs for the Rebels heading into Friday night’s rivalry game with visiting Richmond Hill.
“It’s a home game, a region game, a lot of things are on the line,” Darling said.
ECHS (9-6, 3-1 Region 2-AAAAAA) got off to a slow start, but squeaked by Brunswick 64-62 on Dec. 14 to begin the winning streak.
The Rebels won three games at the Big Blue Classic, a holiday tournament at Model High School, then went on the road to beat Glynn Academy (sporting an 11-2 record) 56-42.
And ECHS never looked better while ending Saturday’s game with Southeast Bulloch on a 37-10 tear in the final 10 minutes and 21 seconds.
During the run, the Rebels made six 3-pointers and had four dunks. ECHS players took turns stepping up. Rashad Scott scored all of his 18 points (five threes) in the final burst. Khiry Wallace dominated the third quarter with 11 of his 15 points. Steady Keion Wallace had seven of his team-high 19 points in the first quarter and Caleb Williams scored six of his 11 in the second quarter.
But setting the tone for Rebels comes back to defense. They allowed just 45 points a game during the last five games. After giving up 32 points in the first half to Southeast, they allowed just seven field goals and 17 points in the second half.
Defending high-scoring 6-foot-6 senior guard Brayden Baker in the matchup with Richmond Hill is expected to come to the forefront. Baker averages more than 20 points a game.
“We’ll be prepared and ready,” Darling said. “Brayden is tough to defend and we have to make sure no one else gets going.”
Last season, the Rebels and Wildcats tangled for a memorable trilogy of games. ECHS, playing without Khiry Wallace (who suffered an elbow injury), was blown out in the first game, but, with Wallace returning to the lineup, the Rebels won the second meeting.
It set up a third matchup in the semifinals of the region tournament. ECHS fell behind by 18 early, but closed within a point in the final minute before losing 58-55.
Darling says the Rebels remember the series and should be excited about getting another shot at the Wildcats this season.
“It’s another big game, maybe some revenge (on the line) from last year,” Darling said. “Those are fun games. Hopefully, we’ll have a big student section and the community will come out to support us. We have a good thing going right now.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Rebels lost at Bradwell Institute on Tuesday 74-65.