BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The Holy Trinity Catholic girls basketball team always takes a little time to recover from the perennial success on the volleyball court.
While most schools in the area have an extra couple weeks to prepare for basketball, Holy Trinity, a regular at the Iowa state volleyball tournament, always seems to be a couple weeks behind and hits their stride later in the season.
The Crusaders may have hit their stride.
After knocking off Class 3A No. 10 West Burlington on Tuesday night, the Crusaders edged Cardinal on the road 31-30 Thursday night, and have won seven of their last nine games.
Last year, the Crusaders, who made it to the state Class 1A title game in volleyball, finished the season winning nine of their last 11 before bowing out to Sigourney in the Class 1A regional semifinals.
Holy Trinity opens Region 4 action Thursday against New London at Shottenkirk gym, with the winner facing the winner of Lone Tree and Hillcrest Academy at Lone Tree on Feb. 18.
On Thursday, HTC trailed 19-14 at halftime after a cool shooting first half that saw the Crusaders connect on just four shots from the field. Sophomore Kassi Randolph went 3-of-4 from the free throw line. The Comets outscored Holy Trinity 9-4 in the second quarter.
The Crusaders wouldn’t be able to cut into the lead, but neither team could find the net in the third quarter as each scored one field goal before the final minute when HTC got two quick buckets from senior Kassi Randolph to close the gap to 21-20.
Cardinal would hold the lead until one minute left. Bailey Hellweg buried her third 3-ball of the game with just under three minutes left, and Claire Pothitakis hit four straight free throws to keep HTC in the game. Cardinal’s Alexia McClure would convert bucket and foul shot to keep the one-point advantage up to the final two minutes.
Senior Avery Hopper would score in the final minute to give HTC it’s first lead of the game and the defense would hold up Cardinal from scoring the rest of the way for the win.
“We found a way to win in the second half. The defense and free throws won it for us,” Head Coach Tony Johnson said.
“We never could find an offensive rhythm. I told them after the game good teams find a way to win even on a bad night offensively.”
Hellweg finished with 11 points to lead HTC. Randolph had seven, while Hopper had six, Pothitakis had four and Ashlyn Haas scored three.
Madison Cloke had a game-high 12 to lead Cardinal.
The win wraps up the regular season for HTC (12-9). Other teams in the top half of the Class 1A Region 4 bracket include Marquette Catholic of Bellevue (bye), Prince of Peace Catholic of Clinton v. Eastin Valley, Calamus-Wheatland v. Midland, and Central City v. Lisbon.
Semifinals are played on Feb. 21 at Burlington Notre Dame, with the finals set for Pleasant Valley. All games have a 7 p.m. tip-off.