By PAUL HINES
The Flaming Hearts hit their opening seven shots on the way to a 60-46 win over Mt. Vernon on Tuesday night.
Behind the strong early offense, Effingham took a 12-2 lead midway through the opening quarter. Josh Stombaugh hit two of his game high five 3-pointers in the first quarter. He finished the game with 19 points to lead Effingham.
“They shot it really well early, but they were wide open,” Mt. Vernon coach Scott Gamber said. “Our game plan was definitely to try and make them beat us from the perimeter, but not (Josh Stombaugh).”
Despite the hot start for the Hearts, Mt. Vernon managed to stay in the game early. Michael Feezer and Shakari Hawkins ended the quarter with buckets to help Mt. Vernon close the gap to 16-10.
But the Hearts offense struck again in the second quarter. Effingham used a 11-0 run to start the period and open up a double digit lead. The deficit left the Rams trying to play catchup for the remainder of the game.
Mt. Vernon whittled the deficit to 10 at halftime, but Effingham opened up a 22-point edge in the third quarter. The Rams enter the final quarter down 15. Mt. Vernon sliced the deficit to a dozen after a bucket from Hawkins. Braden Fitzjerrells made the score 50-41 with three minutes left.
“I told our kids I was proud of how they battled back once their backs were to the wall, (but) you can’t get your backs to the wall on the road,” Gamber said. “It seems like it’s a theme. We come out flat. We go through the motions for a quarter, then we decide we want to play. It’s not a very good recipe to win on the road.”
Fitzjerrells led all scorers with 26 points. He also led the Rams with six rebounds.
“I could not be more proud of him because when you’re getting challenged by your coach as a team to play harder, compete, I thought he played really hard,” Gamber said.
Outside of Fitzjerrells, the Rams struggled on offense. As a team, Mt. Vernon shot 16 of 44 from the field. Hawkins and Jake Pike had nine points each but shot a combined seven of 23.
Mt. Vernon is 14-11 this season and travels to Carbondale on Friday. The Rams are still searching for their first true road win of the season.
“Anybody can play hard, play tough at home,” Gamber said. “It’s pretty easy to do it. It takes a lot of guts to do it on the road. We’ve not done that yet this year.”