SPRINGFIELD — When Effingham coach Jeff Schafer saw the Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin girls basketball team at the Charleston Holiday Tournament, he knew the Cyclones had yet to hit their max potential.
The Cyclones lost both games during the first day of the round-robin. The next day, Effingham lost both games. Schafer told senior guard Abby Weis that he thought SHG had much more to show.
“This is the best team that’s probably not performing up to their capabilities at Christmas time," he told her.
Sure enough, the Cyclones (29-6) found their stride and came to the campus of the University of Illinois-Springfield red hot. SHG answered every Effingham run on Monday night in a 56-40 win in the Class 3A Springfield (UIS) Super-sectional to advance to the state finals for the first time in program history, and stopping Effingham from its first state appearance.
It's the same gym that Effingham's season ended last year — a super-sectional loss to Breese Central.
“We knew they were on a roll," Effingham senior guard Carsyn Fearday, who scored seven points, said. "They won regionals, then they beat Charleston — which we lost to Charleston three teams — then they beat (Bethalto) Civic (Memorial). They’re playing really good right now and we didn’t play well tonight at all."
The Hearts (28-7) couldn't get their shots to fall, shooting 25.9 percent from the field, and connecting on 6-of-32 3-pointers (18.8 percent). SHG, on the other hand, shot 50 percent from the field and used sharp cuts, precise passing, timely shots and a strong interior presence to always keep far enough away from Effingham to withstand its runs.
“We just didn’t play that great tonight, for whatever reason," Schafer said. "We knew we could compete, we knew they were athletic, but you’ve got to make shots. Good shooting makes up for a lot of poor other things."
SHG led by 15 points midway through the second quarter before back-to-back 3-pointers from Miranda Fox and Natalie Carie cut the lead back to single digits at halftime. Effingham hung around and got as close as six points, 42-36, with 6:30 left in the game before SHG opened the lead back up, at one point going on a 10-3 run to all but punch its ticket to Redbird Arena this weekend, where it will play Glenbard South in the state semifinals.
“We never got that run that we needed," Schafer said. "Every time we chipped away or get it to six and man, if they didn’t get an offensive rebound or get a good cut to the basket or a perfect pass. It’s so frustrating and disappointing."
SHG coach Steve Klunick knew the Hearts had a never-say-die attitude, a star in Fearday and a sharp-shooter in Abby Weis who could just as easily power the Hearts back into the lead and onto the Final Four.
At halftime, after the back-to-back triples, Klunick told his team as much.
"I just reminded them, they don’t quit," he said. "They’re an excellent team. We just tried to match their intensity and luckily it came out in our favor."
Fearday, in particular, was a focus for the Cyclones. Schafer knew she would be. He also knew SHG would put the rest of its energy in not letting Weis find herself open from behind the arc. By Schafer's estimation, he would have needed between five to seven 3-pointers from the trio of Skyler Schafer, Natalie Carie — who led Effingham with 12 points — and Miranda Fox. They combined for four 3-pointers.
Fearday is used to seeing heavy defensive attention, but this game felt different. Klunick made it a point to tell his team to not let her get into the paint.
“You get this far, everyone is going to be good," Fearday said. "I struggled to get the ball tonight. They did a great job shutting me down, so give them credit."
SHG's Payton Vorreyer led all scorers with 21 points, sophomore Sophie Lowis had 15 points, all on 3-pointers, and Victoria Zeigler had 10 points, capitalizing on Effingham's lack of a true post player.
“We didn’t play good defensively," Fearday said. "They were beating us on their cuts. They played great and we didn’t."
SHG marks just the fourth team the Effingham has lost to this season. The Hearts lost three times to Charleston, twice to Class 2A runner-up Teutopolis and once to Olney.
The Cyclones, meanwhile, have won eight straight games and the losses in the Charleston Holiday Tournament will simply look like a distant bump in the rearview mirror on the trip up Interstate 55 to Redbird Arena this weekend.
"Both teams did a really good job of re-grouping to make it this far," Schafer said. "They’ve got all the tools. They’ve got the shooter, they’ve got some really quick kids and they’ve got the size. They did a really nice job of putting it all together tonight and we couldn’t get our guard game going.