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Relentless Crusaders tame Lions for title

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With the game well in hand and the Columbus Christian fans poised to rush the hardwood, Crusaders junior Austin Straub was busy blocking a shot with 1.6 seconds remaining.

He didn’t need to defend the play and could have started celebrating his team’s victory early, but why stop doing something you’ve done all season?

His relentless play was just one shining example of how this year’s Columbus Christian boys’ basketball team never quit all the way to the Indiana Christian Schools State Championship.

The Crusaders faced long-time nemesis Horizon Christian for the crown Saturday evening at Anderson University and, for the first time in nine years, beat the Lions 76-68.

The title comes more than a decade after coach Kevin Roth’s 2003 team cut down the state championship nets.

“This took a lot of hard work by a great group of young men that knew they had it in them,” Roth said. “Every player on our roster made this happen, whether they played on the floor in this game or not.”

In front of a fired-up crowd in the O.C. Lewis Gymnasium, the two teams put on a show of intense action that featured several momentum shifts and plenty of emotion.

The Crusaders found themselves up by as much as 10 points early in the second period at 22-12 before they trailed at halftime, 33-32.

The momentum continued to stay on the Horizon side midway through the third period before a flurry by Columbus Christian slid the momentum back in what was perhaps the most crucial two minutes of the contest.

With the Lions leading 45-40 at the 4:26 mark, senior Dalane Shaull grabbed a loose rebound and put the ball back through the net to begin a 12-0 run. Crusaders point guard Nick Bridgewater then stole the inbounds pass and was fouled on his way to the rim.

His two made charity attempts doubled to four following a technical foul by Horizon, and the Crusaders then went to junior center Chris Noblitt for an inside bucket, which was followed moments later by a spin and jumper by Josh Miracle.

When the smoke had cleared at the 2:33 mark, Columbus Christian was in front, 52-45, and Roth’s crew never looked back. The Lions made several small attempts to rally, but each time the Crusaders answered either with an inside basket or key free throws.

Columbus knocked down 23 of 33 free throws, including going 10 for 14 in the final period.

Shaull, who paced the winners with 20 points and eight rebounds, had half of those free throws and also kept his team fired-up with aggressive defense and rebounding.

“This feels awesome,” said Shaull, who was awarded the Christian Character Award following the game. “Our goal to win this started at the end of last season. We wanted to be the next team to have a banner on the wall like the 2003 team.”

The Crusaders also got 16 points each from Bridgewater and Straub, as well as 14 points and seven boards from Miracle.

Other players contributed key minutes, including Noblitt, who was cleared to play Friday morning after suffering a concussion two weeks ago.

“It’s great to get to play and do what I could do out there,” said Noblitt, who used his 6-foot-5, 280-pound frame to shut down Horizon’s inside game. He grabbed seven rebounds.

“All of us have been willing to do whatever it takes to get this done,” he said.

Including Straub’s blocked shot with 1.6 second remaining.

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