With the Washington Lady Jays rallying in the third quarter, the Helias Lady Crusaders turned on the overdrive on the way to a 55-36 victory in the opening round of the Union Tournament Monday.
“We knew we were going to have to work really hard,” Helias Head Coach Doug Light said. “Adam (Fischer) has his kids playing really hard. We’ve seen a couple of games and knew they wouldn’t quit playing hard. That’s how he is and that’s how his kids are.”
Helias (9-3), the second seed, struggled at times against Washington (5-5). The Lady Crusaders led 12-7 after one quarter, getting a three-point basket near the end to extend the lead after eight minutes of close play.
“I felt my girls came out a little sluggish this evening and turned the ball over a few times early in the game, but to our credit, they settled down and started to play pretty good basketball for a while,” said Washington Head Coach Adam Fischer.
At the half, Helias extended its lead to 11 points, 27-16, and was up 37-24 after three quarters.
“We tried to keep our focus,” Light said. “When you’re the No. 2 playing the No. 7, you’re thinking someone would dominate. This wasn’t your typical No. 7 team so we had to work hard to keep our focus. They’re a team that can come back on you.”
But Washington cut the gap to 37-28 with 7:07 to play. After a timeout, Helias responded with an eight-point run to end any possibility of a Washington comeback.
“We had two three-minute stretches that hurt our chances in the game,” Fischer said. “Within this six minutes, Helias outscored us by 15-20 points. The other 25-plus minutes my girls battled hard and played a solid game of basketball. We are getting close to playing a complete game, but when you play great teams like Helias, you have to play all 32 minutes. They are a well-coached team that plays hard every minute of the game.”
Light said Helias worked hard to limit Washington runs.
“I told the kids that if we have any lapses, they’re going to take advantage because they play so hard,” Light said. “If you play hard as an underdog, you can get yourself right back into the game.”
Washington returns to action Thursday at 7:15 p.m., taking on third-seeded Eureka in the consolation semifinals. The winner advances to the consolation game Saturday at 2:30 p.m. The loser plays for seventh place at 1 p.m.
Helias gets sixth-seeded St. Charles West, a 36-35 winner over Eureka, in the championship semifinals Friday at 7:15 p.m. The winner of that game plays for the title at 5:30 p.m. Saturday while the loser goes for third place at 4 p.m.
Monday night’s game started quickly for defending tournament champion Helias, which scored the first four points.
Washington fought back and tied it on a Courtney Kedroski basket off a steal. But Helias got an inside bucket from Hillary Hentges and a three from Kelsi Bernskoetter to go up 12-7 after a quarter.
Washington came out fighting to start the second quarter, but Helias showed how quickly it could turn on the offense, pushing a 13-point run before the Lady Jays could respond. Washington hit the last two baskets of the quarter to soften the deficit at the break, 27-16.
Every Washington surge in the third quarter was met by a Helias reaction. And Bernskoetter continued to toss in threes at key moments to help Helias hold a 37-24 advantage after three quarters.
The Lady Crusaders also benefited from Bre Zanders, who blocked a number of shots during the game, particularly in the second half.
Washington opened the fourth quarter with a Kirstie Leslie Basket. Megan Bauche then hit a three-point shot and Washington trailed by single digits again, 37-28.
But Helias clamped down defensively while scoring the next eight points to put it out of reach. Veterans Zanders, Hentges and Taylor Hagenhoff scored baskets with Hentges getting two buckets. With 4:49 to play, Helias held a 45-28 lead.
While the outcome was pretty much determined at that time, Washington never stopped trying to get back into the game.
Hagenhoff and Zanders tied for the scoring lead with 13 points apiece.
Hentges scored 10 points for Helias while Bernskoetter added nine.
Molly Light hit a three-point basket for her points.
Taylor Ashcraft, Mai Niehueser and Emma Verlues scored two points apiece. Darcy Baird ended with one point.
“We got everyone into the game,” Light said. “For the most part, we’ve been playing about 12 kids. We like to rotate our kids in. We’re getting minutes out of a lot of other kids and that’s helping us a lot.”
Leslie led the Lady Jays in scoring with 12 points and Washington suffered when she fouled out with 2:54 remaining in the contest.
“Kirstie Leslie played her heart out for me all night and she deserves a lot of credit for playing with that kind of intensity all night,” said Fischer.
Kedroski was next with seven points.
Kaitlin Evans and Bauche scored four points apiece.
Paige Carpenter, Megan Freitag, Rachel Kackley and Alex Ready netted two points apiece. Helena Ballmann ended the game with one point.
In the second game of the night, sixth-seeded St. Charles West (8-4) upset third-seeded Eureka (8-5), 36-35.
Eureka started out with a big lead in the opening quarter, 12-2, but fell off after that.
Eureka was up 19-14 at the half and St. Charles West grabbed the lead after three quarters, 30-28.
Kacy Eschweiler led the Lady Warriors with 16 points.
From there, St. Charles West received five points from Lizzie Matejka. Ashley Haupert, Jensen Houdyshell and Jessie Schmidt scored four points apiece. Megan Graves ended with two.
Kelsey Tepen led Eureka with 13 points. Mia Fiore followed with nine points while Lindsey McCoy scored six, Mallory Proffer netted four and Casey Plank ended with two.
Former New Haven Head Coach Dave Luecke is an assistant coach with Eureka.
Light coached two other tournament teams and was a past head coach at both Union and Borgia. He was Borgia’s athletic director as well during Fischer’s time with the Knights.
Light was inducted into the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association hall of fame in 2011 and has an overall record of 532-229.
“It seems that Madison Prep is a program just starting out,” Light said. “The other seven teams are very good. It’s probably the strongest overall field in this tournament in a long time.”