BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Holy Trinity Catholic’s Emily Box may have summed it up best after the Crusaders ended Burlington Notre Dame’s season Tuesday night.
“I’ve never played a game that rough ever,” the senior said after HTC held on for a 55-51 win at home in Class 1A Region 5 second round action.
The game was one of only 10 that were played due to inclement weather around the state. The banana belt that is southeast Iowa was spared the wrath of otherwise treacherous conditions.
The Nikes advanced after downing New London 60-39 at home on Saturday night.
Holy Trinity will now face the winner of Sigourney/Winfield Mt. Union on Friday at 7 p.m. in Sigourney. That game was postponed until Wednesday night.
The Lady Crusaders led the entire game by margins of as much as eight points, but could never shake off the Nikes.
With 5:06 left in the 4th quarter, Hope Ward hit a 3-pointer right in front of Notre Dame’s cheerleaders on the left baseline to knot the game at 40 in the first tie of the game.
HTC wouldn’t score in the next possession. With the Nikes with the ball and a chance to take the lead, Box pulled down a rebound of an errant shot and was fouled by the Nikes’ Taylor Ackerman. The foul put the Crusaders in the one-and-one bonus and Box converted both free throws to give Fort Madison the lead again.
Notre Dame would stay within two points until junior Avery Hopper, who finished with a dozen on the night, scored inside on a nifty pass underneath from junior Ashlynn Haas. Box would hit two more free throws after getting banged around underneath to push the lead to six with about two minutes left in the game.
Notre Dame would pull within four when Ackerman would hit a couple free throws on a foul by Haas driving the lane with only nine seconds on the clock. Notre Dame Head Coach Jimmy Myers called a timeout to set up a defense for the inbound, but HTC was able to get the ball into Taylor Boeding’s hands on the inbound and Boeding was quickly fouled by Ackerman.
Boeding hit both free throws and the Crusaders then let Ackerman run through the lane for a bucket at the buzzer to set the final.
Johnson said the Crusaders had a tough time getting Box going in the first half.
“They played more of a 2-3 and then stretched it into that 1-2-2 in the second half which opened it up more. But Box is just a phenomenal athlete. There’s nobody that can jump with her. That’s her advantage. When she’s jumping, she plays like she’s six-four,” he said.
“We struggled getting production out of Box and Taylor and Ashlynn, and I don’t single out players often, but Mya Lawlor played a whale of a game. Every time we got a critical rebound she was there for it.”
Lawlor said the Nikes half-court pressure gave the girls trouble.
“They pressured us at the half court and we haven’t seen that from them yet this year so adjusting to that was a little rough,” she said. “But we need to learn how to slow down and roll with the punches a little more.”
Box said despite the rough play, the game was called evenly, but the play inside the lane was difficult and she had trouble around the blocks early on.
“They were fronting me the whole time and the girls were having trouble seeing me, but it opened up in the second half. They were calling the fouls, but it was just crazy inside,” she said.
“We’re rivals and that just made it ten times worse how everyone was playing and the emotions were high. It was just a crazy game.”
Holy Trinity opened the game with a 3-ball from Boeding and pushed the lead to 11-5 when Haas scored driving from the left and was bumped. Ackerman would score inside to cut the lead to 12-9 with 2:40 left in the period.
HTC would stretch it seven at 17-10 on a free throw by senior Eryn Anderson, but the Nikes would score three straight to end the period down 17-13.
Both teams suffered a cold spell from the floor in the second quarter. The Crusaders would go 4-12 in the second quarter, including a chilly 1-9 from the start with Avery Hopper scoring the only points on a 3-point play, until 2:08 left in the period for HTC.
But Notre Dame wasn’t having much luck either, going just 2 of 7 in the period. Box would score with 1:43 left in the half and then the Nikes’ Rylie Todd would lace one in from the right baseline from beyond the arc to close the gap to 23-19.
Lawlor would score in transition on the next possession and steal the Nikes’ pass off the press at half court and dribble in for another bucket for a 27-20 halftime lead.
Holy Trinity would lead by as much as nine in the third when Haas scored for a 33-24 advantage. Ackerman would counter with a 3-ball for Notre Dame and then Box would get a nice pass from Hopper across the lane for an easy bucket underneath.
HTC would miss four of their next five to allow Notre Dame to get within five at 38-33 at the end of three.
Before the game got tight in the fourth, HTC would commit five turnovers and three personal fouls before Box corralled an errant Boeding three and put it back in to give HTC a 40-37 lead, right before Ward hit her three to tie it up.
Notre Dame finished the season at a respectable 11-12 in a tough south division where six teams finished the regular season with double digit wins and the majority of the conference in 2A and 3A classes. They also knocked off conference champs Van Buren in Burlington.
Ackerman finished with 20 points to lead all scorers on the night. Hope Ward had 10 for Notre Dame.
Box finished with 18 on the night and had three blocks. Hopper had 12 and Lawlor had 11 on the night. Boeding finished with eight points, Haas had five, and Anderson finished with one point.