BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The HTC boys locker room was upbeat after a 56-52 overtime loss to West Burlington Friday night at Shottenkirk Gymnasium.
Head Coach John Hellige said he couldn’t be more proud of the way his team has been playing, but wins in recent close games have been elusive.
The Crusaders (6-6 SEISC, and 8-8 overall) have lost their last three games by a total of 14 points, including a two-point loss to crosstown Fort Madison last Saturday.
Hellige said the morale of the team is still strong.
“I think it ‘s good. We weren’t down in the locker room at all. When you think about West Burlington – super tough 2A team just two losses on the year and we went up there in early December and they absolutely annihilated us,” Hellige said. “We weren’t even in the gym with those guys six weeks ago.”
The Crusaders lost 74-43 to the Falcons back on Dec. 11 in West Burlington
“You saw tonight just how far this team has come. There’s no such thing as a moral victory, but what we take from this is we played 36 minutes of tough, hard-nosed gritty basketball, and stood toe-to-toe with one of the best teams, if not the best team in the conference,” he said.
Hellige has been talking about the team’s toughness in a school without it’s own football program. But the Crusaders came out physical and quick and put the Falcons on their heels early.
Senior Chandler Rung set the tone that the game wouldn’t be just about HTC leading scorer Vasin Thurman working against West Burlington’s 6-5 post Marvion Jackson.
Rung scored twice penetrating from the left side and Kaden Medland added a 3-ball in the early going to get HTC out in front 7-2.
The Falcons struggled finding the rim in the first converting just 2 of 9 from the field and trailed 7-12 at the end of one.
West Burlington would cut the lead to one at 12-11 when Kaysean Rice scored on a floater. The Falcons would miss the next nine attempts from the floor as HTC opened up a 24-14 lead.
Thurman would score three times moving around Jackson and Ethan Eilers in the paint, and Jason Thurman would add a couple free throws before the break.
Senior Darian Johnson, who finished with 15 points, 11 in the fourth quarter, would get a bucket to cut the lead to eight at 24-16 early in the third. Then the Crusaders would hit a cold spell.
HTC would miss six of their next seven as the Falcon’s chopped away at the lead including a 7-0 run to get within three at 24-21.
Brady Martin would bury a 3-ball from the right baseline with 1:52 left in the third to get the game within a possession at 28-26 HTC. Rung would score again sliding in the left side on a floater from about three feet, and Hellige would call a time out up by four.
HTC would get another stop and Rung would again convert on a short jumper from the right side, but Jackson would answer scoring on spin in the lane falling down. After a WB stop, Colton Sherwood would lace a 3-pointer in front of the HTC fans to make it a one-point game 32-31 at the end of the three.
The fourth would be a seesaw battle with six ties or lead changes and Rung scoring 10 of the Crusaders 15 including two free throws with 1:02 left in regulation to give Holy Trinity a 47-44 led.
But Sherwood got some space six seconds later for a 3-pointer to knot things up a 47-47. Vasin Thurman, who finished as the top scorer on the night with 21, drove the lane in heavy traffic with about 12 seconds on the clock and had the ball roll off the back of the rim.
West Burlington pulled down the board and moved up the floor quickly. HTC knocked the ball away with three seconds left, and then stole the inbounds pass, but a 3/4 court shot from Medland fell short, forcing OT.
West Burlington jumped out to a quick six point 53-47 lead on four straight from the free throw line. Vasin Thurman would get another bucket inside as the Falcon were guarding the perimeter, to make if a four-point game, but Sherwood would hit a couple free throws as HTC went into foul-a-Falcon mode to get possessions.
Down 55-49 with :26 on the clock, Jasin Thurman stepped back from the perimeter prevent defense and buried a 22-footer from the left wing to get the HTC fans to their feet and cut the lead to just three.
Heavy HTC pressure on the inbounds resulted in a diving melee at the WB end that sent Johnson tumbling to the floor in a pile of Crusaders resulting in a whistle. Johnson, who had hit eight straight from the line, rimmed his first freebie, but buried the second making it a two-possession game 56-52 and the Crusaders wouldn’t score again.
“We’re building for districts and I think we’re hitting our rhythm at the right time,” Hellige said. “We missed a few bunnies down at the end and things could have gone either way.”
Rung finished the night with 18 points, while Jason Thurman had nine. Medland had three and Connor Gehling had a point. West Burlington had four in double figures led by Sherwood’s 18. Jackson had 10 for the Falcons.
The Crusaders host Danville Monday night and then take on Central Lee on Friday on the road.