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Eli doing it all for the Telegraph

Leffelman nearly pulls off first-ever triple-double at SVM All-Star Classic

DIXON – When it comes to the triple threat of scoring, rebounding and passing, Eli Leffelman did all three at once perhaps better than anyone else that’s played in the Sauk Valley Media All-Star Basketball Classic.

No one has ever recorded a triple-double, but Leffelman came the closest to doing so in the Telegraph’s 73-67 win Thursday over the Gazette on the same court he’ll be playing on next year for the Skyhawks. 

During his first 2 years of varsity play for Telegraph coach Ray Sharp at Newman, Leffelman was in more of a distributing role for current NIU rising sophomore Noah McCarty. When McCarty graduated, Leffelman found more time near the paint and started taking more shots. 

Leffelman finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists – which tied the mark set by Rock Falls’s Isaiah Johnson in 2004.

“The mentality was to just go out there and have fun, and that’s what I did,” said Leffelman, who was awarded the game’s most valuable player. “We got a lot of open shots, and I was just passing it to them, and they did the rest.”

Block party: The Telegraph’s 34-30 win in the girls game saw a staggering 13 blocked shots, 10 of them coming from the Gazette. No player in the 14-year history of the girls series had ever had more than two blocks in a game. 

Emma Sitzmore, who is Morrison’s all-time leader in blocks, established the new high for swats with four. Not too far behind her was Fillies teammate Kassidee Church, who turned away three shots for the Gazette. 

“I was missing my shots, so I tried to get them back with the rebounds and blocks,” Sitzmore said, “and kind of contribute as well as I can.”

He’s funny: Milledgeville’s Curt Strauss figured he probably wasn’t the best slam dunker, or player, in the Sauk gym Thursday, and wanted to make up for whatever he lacked with a little laughter.

Those laughs turned into wows after Strauss made each of his three dunk attempts to win the slam dunk contest. 

“One shot, zero points, slam dunk contest champion,” Strauss said.

Strauss’ first attempt was a successful driving two-handed jam. For his second attempt, Strauss took a white piece of tape and taped it on the free throw line to signify his next try. However, that turned out to be a setup, as Missiles teammate Buddy Bibler moved the tape closer – all orchestrated by Strauss beforehand.

After that attempt was successful, Strauss had 6-foot, 5-inch Gazette teammate Nick Klimson of Morrison stand at the top of the charge circle. Would he have really tried that?

“Absolutely not,” Strauss said. “I like setting the bar really high, and then really undermining myself so it makes people laugh. It was funny hearing everybody seeing when Nick was standing under the basket and going, ‘Whoa, whoa. No way.’”

Bibler replaced Klimson on the mark, and Strauss successfully completed a leap over the 5-9 Bibler and threw down the jam with both hands. 

But wait: Strauss’ final dunk drew the loudest applause of the night, prompting Gazette teammate Dimitric Young of Sterling – who made his attempts before Strauss – to yell, “Give it to him now!” of the mini basketball awarded to the dunk contest winner.

Sterling’s Myles Williams had a tough act to follow. After making a driving two-hander, and a two-hander behind his back, he had Gazette teammate Garret Winfield of Rock Falls throw up a ball near the hoop for his third try – but was unsuccessful. 

“Myles, 5-7 jumping like that, that’s ridiculous,” Strauss said. “I was feeling nervous, 100 percent, because if he would have gotten that last one down, he would have won.”

Williams made up for the miss by establishing a new Classic
record for most steals in a game, with five. 

One last basketball try: Morrison’s Jaeden Workman found it a little difficult to trade in her softball bat and glove for a basketball after a third-place state finish on the diamond. However, before putting her mind to which sport she wants to try at Illinois State – golf or softball – Workman earned one more basketball honor playing for the Gazette.

Workman won the girls’ 3-point contest by making eight shots, then hitting two of five in a three-way tiebreaker. After she made her eight, the Telegraph’s Kelsey Simpson of Newman and the Gazette’s
Sidney Aude of Milledgeville also both followed with eight.

In the tiebreaker round of five tries from the top of the key, Workman made the first and last shot to secure the win.

“I didn’t think I was going to get it, because there were a lot of great shooters left,” Workman said. “When I shot the [tiebreaker], my coach [Morrison’s Tyler Whitebread] told me, ‘You’re definitely not going to get it with two.’” 

Whoa there: Two boys had tried their 3-point shots before Winfield came up for his, not knowing that there was a starting buzzer signaling the start of the shot attempts. 

Winfield quickly made the first shot before anyone noticed the buzzer hadn’t started yet. 

“I didn’t know that, and just did it,” Winfield said. “I just grabbed a ball and shot it, I was ready to go.”

Winfield made eight more shots and finished with the winning total of nine. Then, the Telegraph’s Andrew Newman of Oregon came up for his shots, waiting for the starting buzzer before making eight.

“I’ve never been able to shoot 3s during the season,” Newman
said, “and I was like, ‘Why not?’ So I went and shot them, and I was surprised that I made eight.”

New low: When Amboy’s Mike McCracken is coaching, there’s a sure bet that defense is going to be a major theme of the game. The Telegraph girls coach saw his team give up 30 points and score 34, with the sum of 64 being the new record for a lowest combined total for both teams in a game. 

Leading the Telegraph’s defense was AFC’s Bryce Gittleson, who became the ninth player in Classic history to record at least four steals.

“We were outsized by them, so just being able to cut off [their drives] was a big part,” Gittleson said. “Then when [the Gazette] started making 3s, we cut that off as well. We changed some things mid-game that really helped.

“I think that was the best way I could end my high school career,” Gittleson added, “with the game, and playing with new people, different people, and it’s a new experience.”

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