BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Head Coach John Hellige has been touting his team’s senior leadership as a special part of his varsity boys basketball team.
Senior Connor Conrad drove that point home Tuesday night…along with 4o points to knock down a frantic Central Lee 4th quarter rally as Holy Trinity Catholic came away with a 75-62 win.
Conrad’s 40, of which 35 came in the final periods, is a new school scoring record according to Hellige. Senior Cory Hopper was second on the team with 18 points.
“We just needed to do something for the team. We needed to get going and I tried doing as much as I could and it turned out all right,” Conrad said after the game.
The Crusaders came out on fire running to a quick 8-0 lead after just 3 minutes had passed in the game. Senior Bailey Merschman had a couple of buckets in the paint to go along with a Hopper jumper and two free throws in that stretch. The Hawks countered with a couple baskets from Isaac Moeller and two free throws from Evan Doyle. The Crusaders pushed the lead hard in the last four minutes of the first quarter when Conrad hit a 3-pointer and bucket sandwiched around another Hopper basket to push a 21-10 first quarter lead.
The 2nd quarter the Hawks came flying back to close the gap to five at halftime spurred by Doyle’s 13 points including a nifty move inside that drew a foul and a converted free throw.
“Tonight was one of those games where we came out played an unbelievable 1st quarter. The 2nd quarter was not a good quarter for us,” Hellige said after the win.
“You know.. it’s our thing, we’re growing game-by-game, day-by-day. I wasn’t a happy coach at halftime and the guys came out and responded and played a great second half.”
The third period saw the teams trade baskets and Holy Trinity had increased its lead to 7, but it was becoming apparent that the Connor Conrad show had arrived.
Conrad connected on three 3-pointers in four minutes, Merschman converted a 3-point play when he was hacked in the act inside and senior guard Nick Pothitakis hit a 3-pointer at the 3:26 mark to keep HTC’s momentum headed for the final crazy 4th period where the physical style of play surfaced highlighted by two technical fouls one assessed to Pothitakis in transition at the Hawks’ end of the floor resulting in three of four free throws converted by the Hawk’s Rick Galle. At the 2:37 mark the Hawks’ Jared Brisby was assessed a quick technical on a foul to Conrad, who subsequently sank all four free throws to put HTC back up by 9.
From the 2:37 mark in the 4th, Conrad converted 10 of 12 free throws and an inside soft 11 footer for 12 points in the final period to help HTC seal the win.
“We got a great team,” Hellige said. “Our scoring is pretty balanced after Cory and Connor and obviously we want those guys to take their fair share of shots.”
“It’s a team game and these guys are very much team players, but tonight was Connor’s night. He’s been the heart and soul of this team for many years and he deserves to have a school record.”
Conrad said he had no clue he was closing in on 40 points.
“I felt in a groove but I didn’t know it was 40,” he said.
Hellige said his game plan included getting ready for some physical play.
“(Central Lee) has got a good thing going with their football program and we talked about their physicalness. The games with Fort Madison and West Burlington put us in a better position tonight,” he said.
The Crusaders move to 4-3 on the season and travel to Danville Friday night with junior varsity action starting at 4:30 p.m. followed by girls varsity and the boys.