By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SPRINGFIELD — The Effingham County boys have been coming up big in big-time basketball games this season.
And that’s a good thing because they’ll only be playing big basketball games the rest of the way.
The Rebels (18-5) advanced to the Region 2-AAAAAA tournament semifinals and claimed a spot in the state tournament with a 76-42 victory over Bradwell Institute in the first round of region play last Friday night.
The win set up a rematch with Richmond Hill, a squad ECHS downed 80-71 on Feb. 9.
Regardless of the outcome of their third meeting with the Wildcats, the Rebels will be in action in Thursday’s region championship game or the consolation game. State tournament first-round play is Feb. 23-24.
ECHS coach Jake Darling is optimistic going forward.
“We’re coming in on a little roll and we’re still getting better,” he said about a squad that has won seven straight games heading into the region semis — the school’s longest winning streak since reeling off 10 in a row (twice) during the 2015-16 season.
The 2015-16 season was also the last time the Rebels won a region championship.
ECHS had a statement win for 2020-21 by beating Richmond Hill, a team once ranked No. 2 in the state and won the first meeting against the Rebels by 18 points. This time, Keion Wallace poured in 27 points, 18 in the first half. Rashad Scott had 18 points and Caleb Williams 13.
The Rebels sank nine 3-pointers and the 80 points were a season high.
But the big surprise of the night was the strong return of Khiry Wallace, who had been out since Jan. 8 after dislocating his elbow attempting a dunk against Benedictine.
Wallace sank two 3-pointers during a 17-3 run that shot the Rebels into a 27-13 lead in the second quarter.
He finished with 16 points against the Wildcats and had a team-high 15 points in the blowout victory over Bradwell Institute.
“We’re playing well right now. That win against Richmond Hill, once we realized we could score 80 points on a good team like that, that was a huge step,” Wallace said.
Darling gave credit to team trainer Ashley Staats and her staff for getting Wallace ready for the postseason run.
Suddenly, a team that had won key games against Brunswick and Glynn Academy during the regular season gained an extra boost with the addition of 6-foot-3 shooting guard who was an all-region performer last season.
“We’re just trying to ease him back in,” Darling said. “It’s hard to change up the rotation that has done so well up to this point. With his scoring and his length, Khiry has provided us with a big spark off the bench.”
The ECHS boys are the only county high school team still playing basketball. South Effingham’s girls went 11 minutes and 12 seconds without a field goal in the first half and lost to Richmond Hill 45-29 in the first round of the Region 2-AAAAAA girls tournament.
“If we could have just made some of our layups and free throws,” Mustangs coach Jenifer Hall said. “We’re young, but they never gave up. I was happy with how hard they played.”
Senior forward Melanie Zeigler led SEHS (7-16) with nine points and 15 rebounds. Sophomore Kay’Mar Griffin had eight points.
South Effingham’s boys lost a 64-61 showdown with Bradwell on Feb. 9 and didn’t make the region tournament.
The Mustangs finished the season with a 5-17 record.
Likewise, the rebuilding Effingham County girls failed to make the six-team region tournament field. The Rebels finished with a 2-19 record.