BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – It was a pretty quiet Shottenkirk gymnasium Tuesday night considering it was senior night. Until….
Cory Hopper put away a break away dunk and then just went bonkers with 29 points in the second half as HTC upset Wapello 58-51 in a non-conference matchup Tuesday night.
While Hopper was walking on water, fellow senior Nick Pothitakis held Southeast Iowa Superconference North scoring leader Trenton Massner to 18 points, four in the second half. Massner averages 22 a game for the Arrows.
“Coach said just don’t let him have the ball,” Pothitakis said. “When he did get it, I just laid off until he put it on the floor and then was right up on him,” Pothitakis said.
HTC had two leads in the first quarter 2-0 and 4-3 and then never led again until the 4:04 left in the game. Wapello and head coach Ken Spielbauer were dead set on pressing the Crusaders into submission and scored regularly off turnovers on the inbounds, highlighted by Massner who stole an inbound pass, took two steps and went for a slam, but the ball caught the front of the rim and bounced out.
The Arrows went on to outscore HTC 13 to 8 in the second quarter highlighted by Massner’s six points for a 35-19 lead going into the half.
HTC Head Coach John Hellige said he told his squad in the locker room that it was Senior Night and they needed to start playing like it.
“I just challenged them and said this is Senior Night. We have to stop all the turnovers and miscues. I told them to just focus on getting the lead to single digits by the fourth quarter and we’d have a chance.”
Massner converted a quick bucket to start the 2nd half, but Pothitakis hit a 3-pointer to start the HTC festivities. Wapello’s Gage Witte answered with a three of his own and then Hopper outscored the Arrows 12-8 the rest of the third period capped by a Connor Hellweg bucket to pull the Crusaders to within six, 42-48 going into the final stanza.
Hopper said he started to feed off the energy of the crowd. And with Connor Conrad out for the rest of the regular season, Hopper said it’s now his job to lead.
“I like playing in front of crowds like that,” Hopper said. “And with Connor out it feels sometimes like I have to take over.”
With about three minutes left in the 3rd period, Hopper picked off a Wapello pass in the 1/2 court offense, measured his steps and put down a two-handed dunk that brought the HTC faithful to their feet. The momentum shifted and Hopper was off to the races.
He scored 15 points in the fourth quarter, while the Crusaders’ defense held Wapello to three free throws in the quarter as the Arrows didn’t convert a single bucket the rest of the way.
“Nick did a tremendous job of guarding Massner. (Massner’s) a tremendous athlete and scorer. Collin Thornton gave Nick some breaks and did a good job, too.” Hellige said.
“Wapello is a very good team, very well coached. Coach Spielbauer does a tremendous job with his teams. This is just a huge win for us going into the seeding meeting tomorrow night.”
Hellige said HTC is probably battling Notre Dame for a 4th or 5th seed in district play.
Rounding out the scoring for the Crusaders was Connor Hellweg with 10, Bailey Merschman with 7, Pothitakis with 3 and Jack Stinson Jr. with 2. Massner led Wapello with his 18.
HTC, now 10-8 on the year, finishes up the regular season with a road trip to New London on Tuesday and then hosts Burlington Notre Dame on Friday.
In the junior varsity matchup, Matt Hellige led the Crusaders with 22 points as they downed Wapello 50-41. Reed Fehseke added 8 points, Bryant Holtkamp had 6 and Quentin Schneider, Adam Rauenbueler, and Kyle Bredemeyer each added four. Connor Holvoet added a bucket.