Republic edges Helias in triple overtime

Helias head Coach Josh Buffington and the Crusader players start to leave the floor after Friday night’s triple-overtime loss to the Republic Tigers in the Class 4 seminals at Mizzou Arena.

Helias head Coach Josh Buffington and the Crusader players start to leave the floor after Friday night’s triple-overtime loss to the Republic Tigers in the Class 4 seminals at Mizzou Arena. Photo by Kile Brewer.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — In a game that featured dozens of big plays, the Republic Tigers got the last one to finally finish a contest that seemed like it would never end.

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With Helias trailing by three with the ball late in the third overtime, Republic’s Cody Geiger came up with a huge steal and dunk to propel the Tigers to a 67-62 win Friday night in a Class 4 semifinal contest.

After Helias’ Isiah Sykes inbounded the ball, Geiger intercepted the return pass intended for the point guard and put home the dunk that sealed the Tigers’ return trip to the championship game.

“I knew he was going to pass it right back to the point guard since he’s their go-to player, and I just read it and got a steal,” Geiger said.

That play was part of the Tigers outscoring the Crusaders 9-4 in the final period, enabling the defending state champions to claim a win after 46 minutes of play.

The dunk gave Republic a 65-60 lead and after Helias raced upcourt and scored on a layup by Casey McCollum, the Tigers made two late free throws for the final margin.

Republic point guard Dylan Beckemeier said the players were competing solely on adrenaline late in the game.

“Your heart’s racing the entire time,” he said. “There’s almost nothing going through your mind, it’s just pure energeticness. You’ve got to play in the moment and it was just awesome tonight.”

Helias coach Josh Buffington said it was a tough game to lose, but one that will be hard to forget.

“It was a great high-school basketball game, one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of, as a coach or a player,” he said. “To do it in the Final Four, on the big stage, in front of a great crowd, just an unbelievable environment. Really it was like a heavyweight fight.”

And like a heavyweight fight, each team had to take the other’s best shot before one finally emerged.

Republic, showing the poise of a team that’s been there before, jumped out to a pair of nine-point leads in the first quarter before taking an 18-10 lead into the second period.

The Crusaders committed seven turnovers in the opening period to help the Tigers get off to their hot start, but the Crusaders had just 12 during the next six periods.

Helias had a 13-6 scoring edge in the second quarter to get back in it, closing to within 24-23 at halftime thanks to a huge 3-pointer by Brock Gerstner with :06 left.

“I thought our guys stayed very poised throughout,” Buffington said. “We knew nerves were going to be a factor … The first four minutes of each half were huge for us. (They) didn’t go our way. … To see our guys battle back through that adversity, when it wasn’t something we were planning on, speaks a lot for our character.”

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The Tigers came storming out of the locker room and hit seven of their first nine shots to take their biggest lead all night at 39-27.

But that’s when the Crusaders finally found their shooting stroke. Helias got a 3 from Sykes, followed by two from Sam Husting and one from Collin Caywood, as part of a 12-2 run to end the frame that got the Crusaders within 41-39 heading to the fourth.

“We knew they were going to make a run,” Republic coach Trevyor Fisher said. “… There in the second half they hit some big-time 3s, so give them credit for stepping up.”

In the fourth, the Crusaders tied it for the first time since 5-all when Husting nailed another 3 to knot it at 45 with six minutes left.

Then with 1:11 left, Caywood drilled a 3 that tied it at 51.

“It was two teams that continued to make big-time plays individually through their systems,” Buffington said.

After a Republic turnover, Helias had two shots to win it in the final seven seconds, but neither fell.

Each team scored five points in the first overtime. The Tigers missed three shots, sandwiched around a Helias turnover, in the final minute, and the game went to the second extra period tied at 56.

Each team had just a bucket in that frame, with the Crusaders missing a jumper with less than a second remaining after running off the final two minutes.

“I couldn’t ask for them to give any more heart and effort and to battle and to have to get stops at the end of overtimes,” Fisher said of his defense. “… It says a great deal about our team and how they refuse to lose.”

The Tigers then never trailed in the final overtime and pulled out the victory.

“It was very stressful, especially going to overtimes and your legs are starting to wear out,” Beckemeier said.

Buffington said the late-period situations shouldn’t overshadow the whole-game effort by the Crusaders.

“These are kids out there and for them to have the grit to get into that situation says so much about them,” he said. “Any time you lose a close game … it’s easy to get that magnifying glass out and really dial in on that last play, or the last minute, or the last 30 seconds, whatever it is. Those are the ones that always stick in everybody’s minds, but what sticks out to me is how we played for 32 minutes of regulation and three overtimes.”

Geiger, in addition to making the game’s biggest play, led all players with 29 points on 12-of-19 shooting. Chase Hoffman added 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Tigers (26-4), who will play St. Joseph Lafayette (25-4) at 8:10 p.m. today for the state title.

Sykes pumped in 24 points to pace Helias (22-8), which will play Farmington (21-10) at 12:50 p.m. for third place. Caywood added 11 points for the Crusaders, Gerstner led the Crusaders with six rebounds and Hale Hentges had a game-high seven assists before fouling out in the first overtime.

“Our guys battled and battled and battled as hard as they possibly could,” Buffington said. “It’s tough to swallow right now, but we’ll refocus and in 15 hours from now we’ll come out and battle again.”

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