TAYLORVILLE — Randy Harpster clapped his hands, shouting “we’re good” after a Charleston off-ball foul, then shot a glance down his bench. Once again, he saw empty seats.
This was merely halfway through the second quarter, and the night defined by who the Trojans didn’t have at their disposal was already trending toward finish-the-game-and-get-out-alive territory.
Harpster could sense it. His team trailed by 15 just 12 minutes in. All he could do was offer encouragement and tell them to keep playing hard. As acting head coach for a game, his own task quickly became piloting a depleted Charleston team through a night that unsurprisingly went wayward fast.
Charleston lost to Taylorville 67-46 Friday in a game where head coach Brad Oakley, starting forward Caleb Hurst, rotation player Lane Harrell and seemingly the rest of Charleston’s deep reserves were absent. An illness slithered through the Trojans’ roster all week, wrecking game plans and knocking out players one by one. They had around five healthy players at one practice earlier in the week, forward Isaac Miller said.
“Even some of the kids who were on the floor, they’re not feeling well,” Harpster said. “That’s not our team. The kids who played, that’s not who they are. They’re all better than they played.”
This was an Apollo game, though, and Charleston (9-13, 2-6 Apollo) was going to play, no matter how crippled it was. It was hard not to observe a barebones team. Charleston’s bench had more empty seats than occupied ones. It had eight players dressed and two coaches present. The Trojans used six players for most of the first half. Their starting lineup had three forwards – Jackson Burgess, Jaksen Braun and Sam Bickford – that do not typically play together. Guard Cade Landrus, who returned from illness Tuesday, barely played in the second half.
“Just play with what you got,” said Miller, who made a rare start at the two.
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Indeed, it looked nothing like the Charleston team that’s 6-5 in its past 11 games. The outcome was not in doubt for most of the game. Still, the game had to be finished, and attrition is no excuse for giving up. The Trojans can leave knowing that, if nothing else, there was no lapse in effort.
“Just thinking positive,” Miller said. “If things go down the wrong path, you have to move on and not just get stuck on it.”
Taylorville, sensing Charleston’s unfathomable lack of depth, tired the Trojans out as early as it could. The Tornadoes (11-12, 4-3) threw half-court traps and challenged every pass. They ran in transition and pushed the tempo whenever possible. Charleston’s hodge-podge roster simply couldn’t create enough open shots. It scored 25 points through three quarters before putting up 19 in the fourth quarter, which used a running clock and featured Taylorville’s emptied bench.
Charleston had a momentary injection of life in the second quarter. The Trojans scored consecutive baskets, sandwiching a Taylorville turnover, to pull back within 10 points, 25-15, with 2:41 left in the first half.
“You can’t keep letting it go downhill,” Miller said. “We had to stop it.”
That was as close as they came. Taylorville’s Jase Bergschneider scored on four straight possessions, each in transition off a Charleston miss. He burst down the court, no one too close to him, caught a half-court pass and scored at the rim. On the final one, he drew a foul. The Tornadoes added one more basket to take a 38-15 halftime lead.
Hurst did not play Tuesday against Olney. Oakley came to school Friday, per Harpster, but did not feel well, went home and handed head coaching duties to Harpster, the JV head coach and varsity assistant.
As if all this wasn’t enough, a wonky week will offer one more parting shot.
The second half of a rare back-to-back – a home game against Tri-Valley – is scheduled for Saturday afternoon.
Contact Patrick Engel at 217-238-6856. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickEngel_