Photo by Diane Cox/CAY Photography
East Alton-Wood River junior Mike Stimac hits a three-pointer.
WOOD RIVER – Mike Stimac of East Alton-Wood River High steams around the lane like a whirling dervish. The 6-foot-1 junior center is a basketball player in perpetual motion.
Call him Steamer Stimac.
And his bursts of energy helped the Oilers steamroll Staunton, 58-39, on Monday in the opening game of the EA-WR Class 2A Regional at Memorial Gym.
While the Bulldogs closed with a 4-19 record, the 11-16 Oilers stayed alive in postseason play. They’ll take on top-seeded Greenville at 7:00 p.m. Tuesday.
“Greenville is a tough team that is well-coached and they get after it,” Oilers’ coach Kyle Duncan said. “We’re going to need a great effort against them.”
EA-WR got a solid effort against Staunton, and Stimac showed the way. He scored 24 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter, to put the finishing touches on the victory. Stimac also snared 16 rebounds and blocked five shots.
“He’s always doing the right thing and that’s because he’s in the right place at the right time,” Duncan said. “He’s a hard worker and he just outworks people.”
Staunton coach Steve Moore agreed. “He (Stimac) plays hard and he’s a beast underneath the basket. He has improved his game by being able to hit mid-range jumpers. He’s tough.”
Stimac, averaging 19 points and 12.6 rebounds, decided he wanted to toughen his style after his sophomore season.
“I did a lot of hard work in the off-season,” he said. “I can tell I’ve improved, especially with my shooting. Overall, I’d say I’ve improved 50 to 60 percent since last season.”
That gradual improvement hasn’t curbed his appetite for going all-out. It’s the only way he knows how to play.
“I always try to play hard because that’s one thing you can control,” he said. “I want to keep working on my strength, be more physical and improve my ball-handling and 3-point shooting.”
EA-WR connected on 23 of 51 shots – five of them treys – in defeating Staunton for the third time this season. Seven Oilers combined for 34 points to complement Stimac’s big night.
Josh Franke, a 6-1 sophomore, led Staunton with 14 points. Jake Bruhn added 10 points. Bruhn served as the quarterback and catalyst for the Bulldogs’ football team, which finished second in the Class 2A finals.
“Josh is going to be a good player,” Moore said, looking ahead to 2014-15. “He led us in scoring and rebounding.”
The Bulldogs experienced a slow start this season and never got it going, Moore said. They made only 12 of 44 shots against EA-WR and committed 19 turnovers.
“We lost our top seven players from last year and we didn’t have any returning lettermen,” he said. “Then we lost several games because of football (playoffs) and the weather. I’m not making excuses. It was just an uphill battle from the get-go.
“But I’ll say this: Our kids kept working hard all season.”
EA-WR CLASS 2A REGIONAL
Staunton 6 13 11 9 – 39
EA-WR 13 17 11 17 – 58
Staunton (4-19) – Bruhn 10, Gusewelle 2, Stinnett 1, Elliott 2, Fairman 6, Franke 14, Kinder 4. 2FG-11 3FG-1 FT-13 PF-16
EA-WR (11-16) – Stimac 24, Buck 4, Butkovich 5, Pate 6, Robinson 7, Marks 5, T. Lafferty 5, Daily 2. 2FG-18 3FG-5 FT-7 PF-17