By PAUL HINES
MT. VERNON —
The Rams face a familiar opponent in the opening round of the Salem Invitational Tournament on Wednesday.
Mt. Vernon plays Effingham (10-4) at 7 p.m. The teams faced three times last season with the Rams winning every matchup, including a game in the consolation final at Salem.
Josh and Jake Strombaugh along with Hunter Keith are all key offensive players for the Flaming Hearts. Effingham also has several players with a size advantage.
“They start three kids that are 6-5,” Mt. Vernon coach Scott Gamber said. “The two Strombaugh twins can create some pretty tough matchups.”
The Hearts rely on a blend of precision and power this season on the offensive end.
“While I think they run some of the same stuff (as last year) it’s more of a power offense this year than what it was last year,” Gamber said.
Mt. Vernon has dealt with a height disadvantage throughout the season. Michael Feezer is the team’s tallest player, and the Rams have been without post player Qwymann Cantley lately because of a knee injury.
“I think (Teutopolis) hurt us with their size quite a bit,” Gamber said. “Cahokia did in spots.
“Something that is definitely a concern, I don’t think we have to do any drastic changes, but I do think we’re going to have to really pick spots to help.”
Two of Effingham’s four losses are against ranked opponents (Cahokia and Teutopolis). Althoff and Centralia have also beaten the Hearts. The loss to the Orphans came in the fifth-place game at the Centralia Holiday Tournament.
The Rams enter the tournament after a home win against Carbondale. Trevor Flota, Braden Fitzjerrells and Michael Feezer paced an offense that poured in 64 points against the Terriers.
The winner of the game faces the winner of the Edwardsville-Mattoon game at 7 p.m. Friday. If the Rams lose, they wouldn’t play again until Saturday morning.