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Crusaders advance to regional final

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Columbus Christian notched its 25th victory of the season and moved one step closer to a state championship after overwhelming Southside Christian 66-21 in Thursday’s South Regional semifinal in the Indiana Christian Schools State Tournament.

The Crusaders (25-4), who also beat Southside in regular-season action, play again at 7 p.m. today in the title tilt against Indianapolis Lighthouse, which put away Bloomington Lighthouse 78-60 in the earlier semifinal showdown. It will be the fourth time this season that tournament host Columbus Christian has faced Indy Lighthouse, prevailing in all three previous meetings.

Coach Kevin Roth unloaded his bench early after watching his starters race out to a 14-0 lead to begin the rout. Josh Miracle and Nick Bridgewater each buried 3-pointers along the way, while sophomore Adriane Polley drilled a turnaround jumper to help the Crusaders close out the opening frame with a commanding 20-3 lead.

The Sharks (3-7) continued to struggle offensively throughout the first half as they were hampered with a combination of miscues and tough shot selections. They turned the ball over more than a dozen times before intermission, allowing Columbus Christian to extend its lead with easy inside buckets or wide-open perimeter shots.

“When we played them earlier in the season, they hit eight 3-pointers, and we were prepared for that,” Roth said about Southside. “But they were missing their two best players tonight for whatever the reason, and our approach to the game changed.”

The hosts opened the second half with a 32-7 lead and their starters on the bench as full-time spectators. A total of 13 Crusaders saw action, and all but one scored, including all five freshmen on the roster.

Freshmen Evan Reed and sophomore Payton Ingram each scored eight points for CCS, matching Bridgewater’s output, while 6-foot-2 frosh Logan Roth added six points and grabbed a game-high six rebounds, as did Reed.

“This game allowed our younger kids to experience playing in a regional and also experience in being ready if called on in our next game,” Kevin Roth said. “I thought our bench played hard, and our starters supported that.”

Southside put up six points in the third quarter, almost matching its entire first-half effort, but still fell deeper behind as the Crusaders tossed in 16 points, including four points each from Polley, Ingram and Lain Isley.

The Sharks’ Christian Merrill led all scorers with 13 points, including a trio of treys.

“Southside just didn’t have the numbers this time around,” Kevin Roth said. “We’ll have our work cut out for us against Indianapolis Lighthouse. I’m impressed with their size inside and overall team speed, so we’ve got to be ready.”

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