By Paul Hines
MT. VERNON — The Rams defense was able to force several fourth quarter turnovers against Effingham in a 49-38 Tuesday night win.
“I'm very happy tonight with how our kids played,” Mt. Vernon coach Scott Gamber said. “I thought our 1-3-1 (defense) was a huge key tonight. We got them to have to chase there at the end.”
The game was close throughout, but Mt. Vernon forced seven final quarter turnovers to pull away. Mt. Vernon clung to a 34-31 lead going into the fourth. Effingham's Leighton Lark tied the game to open the final period with a 3-pointer.
Mt. Vernon responded with a 5-0 run. Jake Pike hit a three, and Braden Fitzjerrells followed with a pair of free throws. Mt. Vernon maintained its small cushion and added to it in the final two minutes. Up 41-38, Mt. Vernon closed with an 8-0 run. Fitzjerrells pushed the gap to 47-38 with a steal and bucket with 14 seconds left. Luke Wilson and Dylan Reeves combined to hit four three throws down the stretch.
“We got a few steals there in a row and (the lead) really extended out to nine,” Gamber said.
Pike led Mt. Vernon with 14 points, and Shakari Hawkins added 13. Fitzjerrells finished with 11.
Lark led Effingham with 11 points. Matt Wohltman added eight. Kevin Daughety finished with seven.
Effingham threatened to open up the game early in the second quarter. Both teams were tied at 12 to end the opening quarter.
Daughety opened the second with a bucket followed by a 3-pointer to push the Flaming Hearts margin to 17-12.
Mt. Vernon answered with its own offense. The Rams ripped off nine straight points. Hawkins highlighted the stretch with back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Rams a 22-17 lead.
“I hope we're getting closer to the point where when we get a lead we're really tough to beat,” Gamber said.”Effingham's impossible to beat when they get a good comfort lead.
“Shakari hitting those shots prevented them from being able to hold the ball. It made them keep attacking. It just changed the whole game because if we get down eight, I know coach (Ron) Reed's going to hold it and force our hand.”
Mt. Vernon is 15-11 this season and finishes the regular season at home Friday night against Centralia.