BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Holy Trinity boys basketball players have a lot to smile about of late.
The Crusaders dropped visiting Mediapolis 63-42 in a non-conference matchup on Monday night giving them three wins in a row. To add to the stats, the HTC boys have won five of their last six, including a win over then 11-2 West Burlington and are three games over .500.
With five games left in the regular season, two this week, Head Coach John Hellige says he’s happy with where his team is right now.
“That’s about where i wanted to be,” Hellige said. “Obviously, we had some close games early that I would love to get back. But we’re moving forward at this point We want to peak at the right moment. I really feel like the kids are buying into the system and playing with a lot of effort and focus right now.”
Focus was clearly on senior Cory Hopper’s mind. Hopper, who said last week he gets a little nervous playing the point guard position, took control of the game literally after the tip and rolled to a game high 28 points.
Hopper moved to the one spot after senior Connor Conrad, who was the team’s leading scoring going into a game in Van Buren on Jan. 10th, bonked his knee. Conrad was diagnosed this week with a partial tear in his PCL ligament, according to Hellige. Conrad’s return is day to day.
“We’re gonna wait. I won’t make any decisions without his doctor’s, his family’s and his blessing. So we’ll just play that day by day,” Hellige said. Conrad was averaging close to 18 points per game before the injury.
Hopper’s two free throws and bucket inside the first three minutes to get the scoring started for HTC, sandwiched a Nick Pothitakis 3-pointer to put the Crusaders up 7-0. Mediapolis’ Will Schroeder got the Bulldogs on the board with a couple from the charity strip with 4:35 left in the quarter. Senior Jack Stinson scored a bucket inside, while Bailey Merschman stepped out and hit a couple 3-pointers before Hopper scored again on a drive to put HTC up 19-6 at the end of one.
Hellige said filling in for Conrad has been a benefit to Hopper’s game.
“I think where it’s helped him more than anything is sometimes last year he would tend to blend in the game for a few moments,” Hellige said. “But when he’s got the ball in his hands its difficult to blend in. Now he’s controlling things and staying actively involved in the offense. Cory can get a shot anytime he’s in the gym. He’s got the ball more now, so naturally he’s probably going to have a few more opportunities.”
The second quarter was more of the same as Hopper scored eight of the Crusaders 10 points in the quarter. Stinson added the other bucket as both teams scored 10 in the period and HTC held a 29-16 halftime lead.
Mediapolis outscored the Crusaders 18-17 in the third period as Hellige started to work his bench again with a 12-point lead at the end of three, 46-34. Hopper put up 7 more in the final period capped off by a Nathan Bredemeyer bucket with a couple seconds left in the game.
The boys travel to Central Lee on Tuesday night for a quadruple with both boys and girls junior varsity and varsity playing. Games start at 4 p.m. Then Danville comes calling on Friday night. The Bears beat HTC by 18 on Jan. 16 in Danville.
Hellige said he wants the focus on Central Lee who the Crusaders beat by 13 on Dec. 13.
“They’re a great team, very well-coached and we’ve got to stay energized tomorrow night,” he said.
Rounding out the scoring for the Crusaders was Bailey Merschman with 8, Nick Pothitakis with 6, and Reed Fehseke, Collin Thornton, Conner Hellweg, Milo Orton and Bredemeyer all had two points.
In the junior varsity game HTC won a closer game 48-44 behind 23-of-29 free throw shooting and 18 points from Matt Hellige. Brant Holtkamp finished with 12, Quentin Schneider had 10, and Reed Fehseke scored 8.