Crusaders reach ICST title game

ANDERSON — One final game.

Columbus Christian’s boys basketball team has one game remaining on its schedule and it just happens to be for a state championship.

The Crusaders (27-4) recorded a strong second-half performance Friday to pull away from Clinton Christian for a 63-53 victory in semifinal play of the Indiana Christian State Tournament at Anderson University.

Columbus returns to the O.C. Lewis Gymnasium at 7 p.m. tonight and will face the winner of Friday’s second semifinal contest between Horizon Christian and Heritage Christian.

“We started this journey in October and now we are where we wanted to be,” Crusaders coach Kevin Roth said to his team after the win. “This is something special.”

Things first appeared as if Columbus Christian might run away with the battle as Roth’s crew jumped ahead 8-0 in less than two minutes. But the Couriers (13-10) slowly worked their way back and even managed to go in front 15-14 early in the second period.

The Crusaders struggled to find any offensive consistency after their opening burst and led just 25-23 at intermission, thanks to a 3-pointer by the Crusaders’ Josh Miracle.

Clinton returned the favor to open the third quarter as leading scorer Madison Yoder drained a trey, but Nick Bridgewater answered with a 3-pointer of his own and teammate Austin Straub caught fire to push their crew in front for good.

With action tied at 30 following a Straub layup, the junior kept right on rolling, nailing a short jumper and then having a hand in a streak that saw the Crusaders outscore their opponent 11-3 to take a 45-37 lead.

Straub scored 10 of the team’s 20 third-period points and also grabbed a pair of rebounds, a steal and hit Miracle with a pass that lea to another 3-pointer.

“Austin played well,” Roth said. “We felt he could have an advantage with his style of play and he used it during that run.”

Straub finished with 17 points, right behind Miracle with 18.

Still, despite the turned-up tempo of the third quarter, Columbus Christian had just a 45-40 lead heading into the final quarter. Yoder quickly buried another jumper to cut things to 45-42.

The Crusaders then changed things up and took control at the charity stripe, scoring 11 of their final 18 points to maintain the advantage and eventually pull away.

Columbus senior Dalane Shaull, who added 13 points, was the key aggressor down the stretch, getting to the line early in the fourth and cranking up his defense on the other end. His steal and layup with 1:48 remaining in the contest put the Crusaders on top 55-45 and they maintained that cushion the rest of the way.

“I told the kids in the final quarter to just play with patience,” Roth said. “Then under three minutes, I told them to be ready for the pressure and protect the ball.”

Despite a pair of late 3-pointers by the Couriers, the Crusaders continued to salt away the game at the line.

“We did a nice job tonight and even had a few of our younger players play really well,” added Roth. “We’ll need an effort like that from everyone again in (tonight’s) game.”