BY JOHN BOHNENKAMP
FORT MADISON – The speed. The length. The experience.
It was, Holy Trinity boys basketball coach John Hellige said, overwhelming.
Fort Madison turned its home court into a superspeedway on Saturday, roaring to a 78-40 win over the city rival Crusaders.
The Bloodhounds (10-0), ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press Class 3A poll, led 17-2 after the first 3 minutes, 11 seconds.
It’s why Hellige reached for a NASCAR analogy to describe why this game could be beneficial for the Crusaders with the postseason looming.
“You talk about a strong, fast, athletic team,” Hellige said of the Bloodhounds. “In a game like this, facing the press and the strength and the speed that they have, when we get back down to the 1A level at district time, I told the kids that this was like the Daytona 500. And hopefully the 1A districts will be like Lee County Speedway for us after this game.”
The Bloodhounds looked the part of one of the state’s best teams. But coach Ryan Wilson knows there’s always a price that comes with a high ranking.
“It’s nice to be ranked, it’s nice to be recognized across the state for these kids’ hard work,” he said. “But at the end of it, it’s a number in front of you. You’re the hunted, people want to come knock you off. You’re now the big bullseye of southeast Iowa. Everybody is going to give us their best. And we have to be ready for that.”
Which is why Wilson called a timeout with 3 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter and his team up 60-31. He didn’t like his team’s focus at that point, and he wanted to point out that every game has to be complete.
“I was like, ‘Just stay focused.’ We’ve got 32 minutes to focus on,” Wilson said. “I saw some guys looking around, talking to people in the crowd. You can’t do that. So I was like, ‘Hey, rein it back in, stay focused.”
The Bloodhounds listened. They went on an 11-2 run, forcing a running clock for the rest of the game.
The struggle for the Crusaders (2-11) early was just about getting the ball across center court. Fort Madison’s press, with Dayton Davis at the front of it, was just constant harassment. Hellige used two timeouts in the first 2 1/2 minutes after the Crusaders committed four turnovers to fall down 12-2.
“Their press, it really affected us,” he said. “When you’ve got young guys out there, like we have. We practiced all week not to get rattled by the press, but Davis is so long and active out there. It was just a little bit overwhelming there for our guys.”
Davis led the Bloodhounds with 23 points. Miles Dear had 22. Conner Gehling had 22 for the Crusaders.
“We just tried to keep it in perspective — eight seniors against a lot of younger guys. It’s a tough matchup,” Hellige said. “Tonight we got overwhelmed in the first half.”
Fort Madison doesn’t play again until next Friday against Keokuk. With Friday’s game against Burlington postponed because of the weather, Wilson was hoping the Bloodhounds would get to play this game.
“It was good to play this weekend,” he said. “To go a potential two weeks off because of the weather was kind of lingering. I’m glad it didn’t happen.
“Little sloppy, but a win’s a win.”