BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Holy Trinity keeps finding ways to win, even without starting point guard Connor Conrad.
The HTC Crusaders have found a chemistry with a bigger lineup as they won their second game in a row and four of their last five as they downed visiting Southeast Iowa Superconference foe Cardinal of Eldon 63-30 Friday during Homecoming at Shottenkirk Gymnasium. The Crusaders dropped, then 11-1, West Burlington on Tuesday.
It’s also the fifth game HTC hasn’t had a point from Conrad who was leading the conference in scoring when he injured his knee in the first minute of the team’s Jan. 10 game at Van Buren.
“I just don’t want to take a chance and do further damage,” Conrad said before the game. “We’ve got some big games coming up and I want to be ready for those.”
But the Crusaders have stitched the gap by moving senior Cory Hopper to the point guard, or 1 position and have been running with a bigger lineup, which has been paying dividends for Head Coach John Hellige. Hopper scored 20 points or more in the past two games and is second in the conference in scoring at 17.2 points per game.
“We went with our bigger lineup again. Having two 6’7″ guys in there kind of helps with the scoring and rebounding,” he said.
Hellige is referring to seniors Bailey Merschman and Jack Stinson who take up a lot of room in the middle and keep balls alive and in play.
“I gotta give a big shout out to Jack Stinson. He comes and plays with a lot of energy and really keeps the team energized.”
HTC rushed out to a 21-9 first quarter playing an up tempo game that has led to many early leads for the Crusaders. They then held Cardinal to just five second half points playing a stingy matchup zone for most of the half and getting a lot of turnover points off a full court press that Hellige engaged for most of the half.
Holy Trinity pushed the lead to 29 points by the end of the third period and Hellige was freely substituting and had emptied the bench three minutes into the fourth quarter sprinkling freshmen and sophomores in with the veteran players.
“We need to continue to get those guys minutes, we are a very senior-heavy team this year.
HTC moves to 8-6 on the season and has a busy three-game week coming up with non-conference home games Monday vs. Mediapolis and Friday vs. perennial powerhouse Danville, who shut the Crusaders down 46-68 on Jan. 16. The Crusaders, who stand in fourth place in the conference also travel to Central Lee for a conference game on Tuesday night.
The word is still out on when Conrad will return, but Hellige said last week he’d take a 75% Conrad over most players at 100%. And with Hopper playing well at the point, Hellige said he may look at some changes there.
Hopper said he just plays where he’s told and tries to help the team win anyway he can.
“I get a little nervous running point, because I hadn’t done it before,” Hopper said after the game.
“When Connor’s in he’ll get that rebound and then we can get it to the wings and we can run, but Cory has been playing very well at one so that’s something to think about.”
With Stinson and Merschman seeing steady action and helping control the inside game, Hellige has plenty of options in the back court. A circumstance he’ll welcome with just six games remaining in regular season play.
Rounding out the scoring for the Crusaders, Hopper led the team with 21 points followed by Merschman with 11, including two first-half 3-pointers, Nick Pothitakis with 8, Stinson with 7, Connor Hellweg with 5, Milo Orton had four, and Homecoming King Ben Tinguely added 3.