Helias holds off Eureka in fifth-place game

The Helias Lady Crusaders weren’t going to let this win slip away.

Problems against the press? No problem. Foul trouble? No trouble.

“That was quite a win against a very good team,” Helias coach Doug Light said Sunday afternoon after the Lady Crusaders defeated the Eureka Lady Wildcats 51-44 in the fifth-place game of the State Farm Holiday Hoops Invitational at Rackers Fieldhouse. “The kids kept finding a way to get things done.”

It was a true team effort in the victory as the Lady Crusaders got something out of all nine players who saw action.

“We are at our best when everybody is contributing,” Light said.

The foul trouble started early as both Helias starting post players — Darcy Baird and Mai Nienhueser — were whistled for two fouls in the first 4:40 of the game.

Helias, already short-handed down low with injuries to Kaitlyn Cowell and Molly Sandbothe, often had five guards on the floor against a Eureka team that features five players 5-10 or taller.

“Our girls off the bench did such a great job of limiting Eureka’s second-chance opportunities,” Light said. “We were battling for every rebound and getting a lot of them.”

Helias, which finished with a 32-26 edge in rebounds, led 9-6 after the first quarter. The advantage grew to as many as eight in the second quarter, that coming when a three-point play by Ashley Rehagen made it 22-14 with 3:01 left in the half.

But the Lady Crusaders would get just one bucket the rest of the half as the Lady Wildcats used a pressing defense to force multiple turnovers, which resulted in easy buckets. The game was tied at 24 at intermission.

The only positive from the rash of turnovers was they came so late in the half and the Lady Crusaders had the break to fix things.

“We just had to get a few things straightened out,” Light said. “We had some girls out there in roles they weren’t used to being in, so it was just a matter of talking about it.”

Helias, which had seven turnovers in the second quarter, had just nine in the second half.

Nienhueser came back to score four of Helias’ 12 points in the third quarter as the Lady Crusaders took a 36-31 advantage into the final period.

Helias started the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer by Rehagen and a free throw by Nienhueser to stretch its lead to 40-31. Eureka answered with seven straight points to make it a two-point game midway through the quarter.

Then it turned into the Meghan Nappier show.

With a smaller lineup, the Lady Crusaders spread the floor and the Helias senior guard hit three layups in a 1:30 span. The last one, which came with 2:10 remaining, gave Helias a 46-40 lead. Nappier finished with 14 points Sunday.

“She made some very nice cuts to the basket,” Light said.

The Lady Crusasders led by as many as nine points in the final minute.

Rehagen, a freshman, came off the bench to lead Helias with 16 points. She had 18 in the Lady Crusaders’ win Saturday against Southeast of Oklahoma City, Okla.

“We didn’t come into this tournament thinking Ashley was going to be a difference-maker, but she was in two games,” Light said.

Light was pleased with how his team responded after a tough opening loss Friday to Blue Springs South.

“We just forgot about that first one and came back with two very good games,” he said.

All-tournament selection Lindsey McCoy led Eureka (7-2) with 16 points. Kelsey Tepen added 11.

Helias was represented on the all-tournament team by Baird, who had 12 rebounds Sunday, and Nienhueser.

The Lady Crusaders (6-2) will be back in action Friday at Sedalia against the Smith-Cotton Lady Tigers.

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