What a Ball

Helias defeated Jefferson City 52-50 Tuesday night in Rackers Fieldhouse

This was the night after. Call it the Inaugural Ball, without the Inaugural.

Thankfully --- and unlike Monday night --- we get to enjoy this every year. Short of the elected governor sliding down the Capitol bannister prior to the First Dance, this affair is always more entertaining.

In another back-and-forth slugfest before another overflow crowd, the Helias Crusaders overcame a 10-point first half deficit and held on to beat the Jefferson City Jays 52-50 on Tuesday night at Rackers Fieldhouse.

"It's unlike anything I've ever been a part of, as a player or a coach," Helias coach Josh Buffington said. "I think it's one of the better rivalry games in the state, in our sport, and it always seems to come down to the wire.

"It sure is a lot of fun to be a part of."


This game was a tale of two headlines.

The first ... Great Scott.

Scott Stegeman, a 6-5 senior, had a perfect first half for the Jays (7-8). He was 8-for-8 from the field, hitting contested 15 footers, a semi alley-oop, and a 12-foot baseline jump hook. And most of these shots hit nothing but net.

"Scott's a great player and they play through him, on both ends of the floor," Buffington said.

Stegeman scored 16 points and snagged six rebounds in the first half.

"He's always done things the right way," Jays coach Blair Thompson said. "If you build a basketball player, a student-athlete, from scratch, that's what he'd look like.

"Scott played as well as I've ever seen him play in that first half."

After six early lead changes, the Jays put together a 12-0 run and led 19-12 after the first quarter. They led by as many as 10 in the second quarter after six straight points from --- who else, Stegeman. But a 3-pointer by Jared Bentlage with 1 second left in the half got the Crusaders (6-9) within 30-23 at the break.

"That was huge," Buffington said.

The second headline ... Hale to Helias.

This game showcased not one, but two, talented 6-5 players, the other being Helias sophomore Hale Hentges. He held Stegeman to just four points and two rebounds in the second half, while finishing with 19 points --- eight in the pivotal third quarter --- and eight rebounds.

"We weren't using him like we should have in the first half," Buffington said. "We had to get him more involved, and we did."

This game usually has more runs than Chili Night at the Senior Center, and the 3-ball by Bentlage before the half proved to start the game-winner.

The Crusaders, who have won eight of the last nine in the Crosstown Showdown, then dropped in the first 13 points of the second half --- making this a 16-0 run --- and led 42-35 after three quarters.

"Our shot selection was a lot better and I thought our guys settled down after the halftime adjustments," Buffington said. "We just played a smarter basketball game, we did a much better job on Stegeman and defensively, our intensity was a lot better."

Through three quarters, this certainly had less contact than the Inaugural Ball --- just 14 total fouls, with Helias shooting 11 free throws, the Jays none.
The Jays, however, were within 51-50 when Ogugua Anunoby hit two free throws with 1:16 left. Then, Onunoby went back to the line with 25 seconds left --- and the Jays still trailing by one --- but he missed the front end of the one-and-one.

After a 5-second on-the-floor scramble between Stegeman and Garrett Buschjost, it was called a jump ball. Possession, Helias.

Brock Gerstner --- who canned five 3-balls and scored 16 points for the Crusaders --- was fouled with 6 seconds left. He made the first free throw, but missed the second. A last-ditch 3-pointer by the Jays' Deshon Williams at the buzzer was partially blocked by --- who else, Hentges --- and fell short.

"It was a great basketball game, without a doubt," Thompson said. "The intensity level was extremely high from start to finish."

And it came down to the finish. Again.

What a Ball.

That should be the third, and lasting headline. Again.