BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Holy Trinity Catholic girls basketball Head Coach Tony Johnson got a little of what he was looking for Friday night.
After the Crusaders got knocked off at 2-10 Van Buren Tuesday night, Johnson said he was after his upper classmen for some leadership and consistency.
He got that Friday when the Crusaders downed West Burlington 61-45 at Shottenkirk Gym.
“We didn’t play very well Tuesday, and they rebounded tonight,” Johnson said. We couldn’t get out of our own way against Van Buren. Couldn’t make nothing – missed 11 free throws and lost by three. We kinda got manhandled so I challenged the older kids. I knew this game would be physical, so I challenged them.”
Junior Brooke Mueller accepted the challenge and put up 17 points to lead Holy Trinity. Sophomores Mary Kate Bendlage and Natalie Randolph both were also in double figures with 12 and 10, respectively.
The Crusaders jumped out to a quick 4-0, but West Burlington would get their legs under them and respond with an 8-2 run to take an 8-6 lead with just over four minutes gone in the first quarter. It would be the last lead the Falcons would have.
HTC put up their own 8-2 run to finish off the quarter capped by Brooke Mueller’s nice inside pass to Kayla Box for a bucket underneath. Mueller would score herself after a defensive stop at the other end.
West Burlington shot a chilly 4-14 in the first quarter with Abbey Bence scoring eight of West Burlington’s 10 points. The shooting woes continued in the second quarter as the Falcons went just 2 of 13 from the field.
HTC meanwhile stayed hot most of the night, shooting 49% from the floor. Senior Raquel Schneider, who has a propensity to bank in 3s, kissed in a 3-ball from the right wing to open the second quarter and open a 17-10 lead.
West Burlington would counter with a bucket from Riley Richards who was fouled on the play. The senior missed the freebie and, aside from a McKenna Marlow bucket in transition and four free throws from Bence, the Falcons were pretty much held in check by the Crusader defense.
The Falcons tried to push the temp with a trapping press after buckets and some full court pressure, but HTC was up to the task and used solid ball movement to get into the half court. West Burlington Head Coach John Vandenberg pulled the press until the fourth quarter to challenge the Crusaders in the half court.
Johnson said HTC has been much better dealing with pressure this year.
“Honestly, we’ve pressed a couple times and we’re good with that. We just have to transition better in the half court,” he said.
“We’ve been working on it a lot – ball movement. You can’t stand and hope someone can take it one-on-one. You gotta keep moving – find holes and that’s what we worked on.”
The Crusaders led by 11 at the half, holding West Burlington, which typically likes to get out and run in high scoring affairs, to just 18 points before the break.
West Burlington would cut the lead to six on a put-back by senior Stacey Dzawo to make it 35-29, but HTC would push the lead back out to 11 on a 3-ball from freshman Teagan Snaadt.
Bence, who finished with a game-high 28, converted a 3-point play off a foul with about three minutes left to make it 48-40, prompting a full timeout from Johnson.
The Falcons came out of the break with a press to try and create some turnovers and quick points, but Holy Trinity was able to slip through the pressure and pull away for the win.
“The last few games we were being carried by the sophomores and underclassmen. I told the upperclassmen, ‘You guys gotta grab the bull by the horns’,” Johnson said.
“There’s going to be nights when the sophomores are going to be sophomores and they’re not gonna make shots and will make those mental mistakes.”
Snaadt, and senior Kassi Randolph, who returned after being out for a week with an illness, each had six in the win.
HTC improves to 9-3 in the Southeast Iowa Superconference and 9-6 overall. West Burlington falls to 10-5 overall (8-5 in SEISC play) suffering three straight losses this week.