BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Emotions were high at Shottenkirk Gymnasium Tuesday night.
Holy Trinity Head Coach John Hellige said former Aquinas great John Muerhoff, who passed away suddenly Jan. 20, was in the house as Hellige’s Crusaders knocked off Class 1A’s No. 13 Burlington Notre Dame 67-61.
Hellige got emotional talking about the fierce competition he and Muerhoff had on the court and how close they were as friends off. Hellige played for Fort Madison while Muerhoff played for the Dons.
“It kind of felt like he was here with us tonight,” Hellige said.
Senior Vasin Thurman said the locker room was full of a bunch of senior 5-year-olds jumping up and down and yelling.
Notre Dame brought a raucous student section sporting State Volleyball Champion t-shirts. And senior Jason Thurman capped it all off saying this was what the Crusaders have been preparing for.
“We’ve been going to Athletic Enhancement and working out at Fort Madison and that’s gotten us stronger and more prepared,” Jason said.
“We’re a lot more confident this year. Tonight we believe we can beat any team in the conference and any team in the state.”
Thurman finished with a game 20 points scoring inside and out in the second half including three 3-balls and then backing down Notre Dame’s posts in the lane.
Vasin Thurman played the same physical style inside on his way to 19 on the night, routinely swinging through the Nike interior for scoops and layups.
Holy Trinity controlled most of the first quarter building a 15-12 lead, but the Nikes would come back to tie it up at 15 when Smith converted the front end of a two-shot foul.
Tyler Snaadt would hit on a three to give the Crusaders the lead back and they would hold until Hoffman scored inside after an inbound steal to tie things up at 21.
Smith would block a Chandler Rung layup at the other end, but the Nikes would then commit three straight personal fouls. Vasin Thurman would convert two of the freebies for another 2-point lead.
Matt Johnson and Rung would exchange buckets and then Johnson would hit on 3-ball to give Notre Dame their first lead of the game 26-25 with 1:53 left in the half.
Holy Trinity junior Mikey DiPrima took over and scored eight points in the final 1:23 to give Holy Trinity a 33-29 halftime lead.
“Kinda cool a kid like Mikey DiPrima steps up and hits two 3s and a couple free throws. I know Mike can hit those in a game, but those are bonus shots that make a coach really happy.”
The two teams combined for just eight offensive rebounds in the first half and then just 13 on the night resulting in a fast-paced game that the Crusaders didn’t shy away from.
Out of the break, the Crusaders would build a six-point lead with a Thurman bucket inside at 42-36. But Notre Dame came back again with a 8-2 run and tied the game at 44 on a Sam Brueck floater in the lane.
Holy Trinity would pull away again and build an eight-point lead when Snaadt scored inside with 6:35 left in the game for a 52-44 advantage. Smith, playing with four fouls, would answer for the Nikes inside.
Jason Thurman would miss on a cut to the basket in the next possession, but DiPrima grabbed up a rare offensive board and was bumped by Smith on the way in, sending the 6-5 senior to the bench for the night.
DiPrima would make the front end of the bonus for a 53-46 lead, but Notre Dame had one more run in them led by senior Brady Oleson. Olsen fired in a 3-ball from the top of the key and then a 10-footer in transition after a defensive stop to tie things up at 55.
On the next trip down, Snaadt would drive from the left baseline and throw up a shot that banked in after he was knocked to the floor. He would complete the 3-point play, and Jason Thurman would score twice after two defensive stops to put HTC up by six again.
Notre Dame would get within two one more time when Johnson would score after the Nikes knocked the ball away from Jason Thurman at the half court to make it 63-61, but the Crusaders would hold them scoreless the rest of the way.
“We’ve been knocking at the door.. West Burlington, Fort Madison, Danville, and the kids have been working hard. We talked about making memories and it being senior night. Tonight we just got over that mountain.”
Vasin Thurman said the win will give HTC energy going into Tuesday’s matchup with Class 1A No. 16 New London on the road.
“We know now we can play with and beat any team in the conference,” he said.
Chandler Rung had 11 points, while DiPrima finished with nine and Snaadt had eight to round out the Crusader scoring.
Smith led the Nikes with 14 points on the night, tied with Anthony Hoffman.