Crusaders come up just short in substate final

Strong second half not enough to wipe out deficit

FAIRFIELD — It was the end of the season, but Holy Trinity boys basketball coach John Hellige wanted it to be the beginning of something more.
The Crusaders’ run through the Class 1A postseason ended with Saturday’s 46-41 loss to Winfield-Mount Union at Fairfield High School.
Holy Trinity finished 19-6, one step short of the state tournament.
To Hellige, it was the start of the journey.
“Like I told the kids, ‘You guys put in the work. You worked your tails off in the offseason. You’ve done everything and more that I’ve asked you to. You’ve put Holy Trinity basketball back on the map,’” Hellige said. “ I told the underclassmen, I said, ‘There can’t be a letup. There can’t be a drop-off. We lose two amazing seniors, but you underclassmen have to get to work.’ We want to be in district finals. We want to be in substates. We want to be (in the state tournament) in Des Moines next year.”
The Crusaders rallied from a two-point second quarter to challenge the fifth-ranked Wolves (20-2), who are going to the state tournament for the first time since the 1996 team finished second, concluding a five-year run of state tournament appearances.
“With our history, it’s been a drought,” said W-MU coach Klay Edwards, who played on three of those state tournament teams in the 1990s. “Like small school basketball, we have a very rich history. But it’s a small school, it goes up and down. So it’s huge, huge for these kids. I’ve been (coaching) these kids since kindergarten — three of them are mine — so it’s a joy to be able to get them to this point.”
Holy Trinity’s zone forced a slower pace, but it’s something Edwards has grown to expect as teams try to slow seniors Cam Buffington and Abram Edwards, who will play NCAA Division I football next season.
“I don’t want to play in the 40s, I want to play in the 60s, 70s,” he said. “It’s what we’ve seen all year. People like to sit in the zone, play a half-press to kind of slow us down.”
“They’re big kids,” Hellige said. “They’re Division I football players. It’s difficult. That’s why we went zone the first three quarters. Looking back at it, in the fourth quarter, the man-to-man boosted our energy a little bit, led to some transition, some excitement, things like that. But for a full four-quarter game, it’s hard to match up with two monsters man-to-man.”
Holy Trinity, which scored just two second-quarter points, trailed by 11 points early in the third quarter, but kept the game in the single digits for most of the second half, getting to within two points twice in the final 3:22, the last time at 40-38 with 2:26 remaining. But Abram Edwards and Buffington had two big baskets inside to stem the Crusaders’ run.
“They were scrappy,” Klay Edwards said of the Crusaders. “They had some active hands in there and turned us over a couple of times. But we were able to be strong with the ball and finish.”
The two teams were tied at 11 at the end of the first quarter before the Wolves’ defense, with Buffington and Abram Edwards roaming inside, kept the Crusaders from mounting any sort of attack.
“We were physical,” Klay Edwards said. “We got into hedging the curls a little bit better — we kind of broke down in the third quarter, which was disappointing — and we limited them to one shot. Cam and Abram just cleaned up everything, it seemed like. If there was an offensive rebound, it was a long one, just out of reach. We really did a good job of making every shot they took tough.”
“It was just a struggle, just the physicalness of Winfield-Mount Union made it difficult,” Hellige said.
Buffington finished with 17 points. Jake Edwards added 11 points.
Luke Hellige led Holy Trinity with 16 points. Conner Gehling had 10 points. 
The Crusaders lose Gehling and fellow senior Maddox Rung. Next season, John Hellige said, had already started, but he knew what this one meant.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “we had a tremendous season.”
HTC, Holy Trinity Catholic, basketball, substate, Class 1A, Winfield Mt. Union, WMU, boys, post season, sports, Pen City Current, John Hellige, Fort madison, Fairfield,


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