Tigers Win First Game of Tournament, Move on to Semifinals

Sophie Kraus

Sophie Kraus

Morgan Goebel, Co-Editor-in-Chief

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After 11 days without a game, the EHS boys basketball team is returning to the court for the oldest mid-winter tournament in Illinois—the Salem Invitational Tournament.

Last year, EHS lost the championship game to Centralia High School in overtime, surrendering their four-year-winning streak.

“It was a long bus ride home,” senior Oliver Stephen said of last year’s tournament loss. “We all knew we could have won that game.”

Although the drive to Salem is an hour and a half long, assistant varsity coach Dustin Battas said the experience gained at this invitational becomes valuable when March rolls around.

“The teams (at the Salem Invitational) play a little different style than the teams we play in the SWC, so this tournament forces us to adapt to playing different styles of basketball,” coach Battas said. “It’s good preparation for postseason when we play all different types of teams.”

Not only do the Tigers have to adjust to new opponents, they must do it without starting senior A.J. Epenesa who is playing football in the Polynesian Bowl Game in Hawaii this week.

“I still feel confident in our guys,” coach Battas said. “They know what to expect here and I think they are excited to be back.”

The Tigers put their adaptation skills to the test during the first game of the tournament against the Mt. Vernon Rams on Wednesday, Jan. 18.

Although EHS won the game 49-37, the Tigers went into the locker room at the half with a mere three-point advantage and the score at 24-27.

“We switched our defense up a little bit (in the second half) because (Mt. Vernon) was making a lot of shots,” senior Nathan Kolesa said. “From there we were able to stop them from scoring and that allowed us more opportunities on the offensive side of the court.”

The change in defense proved worthwhile for the Tigers; Mt. Vernon only gained two points in the third quarter while EHS scored 17.

The Tigers will play Triad in the semifinal game on Friday, Jan. 20 at 6:30 p.m.

If they beat Triad, the boys will play in the championship game on Saturday, Jan. 21 at 8 p.m. If they lose, they will play for third place at 5 p.m. on Saturday.

With two first-place-tournament finishes at Highland and Collinsville already under their belts, Kolesa said the Tigers are hopeful for another chance at a tournament championship.

“(Salem) is always a good tournament with good competition, but I think if we keep doing what we have been doing we’ll have a good shot.”

 

 

 

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