Coming into Thursday's game, the Helias girls basketball team knew the task was going to be tough.
By gametime, the challenge got infinitely harder.
Playing without their leading scorer, the Lady Crusaders gave a game effort against the sixth-ranked team in the state in Class 5 before finally dropping a 48-37 decision to the Rock Bridge Bruins at Rackers Fieldhouse.
"The kids played so hard," Helias coach Doug Light said. "There was a little adversity with Olivia Hackmann, our leading scorer, out sick. We didn't have her and the kids responded.
"We could have just said, "We don't have a chance,' but our kids said, "We can win this game.'"
The game started with a wild first quarter that saw the teams combine for 13 turnovers while making just 5-of-21 shots, and ended tied at 8.
Helias' defense started an especially impressive stretch during that quarter, as the Lady Crusaders held the Bruins scoreless for an 8 1/2-minute span bridging the first and second quarters.
But immediately after that, the Bruins went on a 10-2 run and threatened to break it open while leading 18-14.
"They had a chance to go up six, but we got two straight stops and got scores," Light said. "And they had another chance to take the lead before half and we got a stop and got the rebound.
"That was a huge point. They could have stretched the lead to 10, but instead our kids got the tie."
While the turnovers were essentially even in the first half, with Helias having 12 to Rock Bridge's 10, the Bruins responded after the break. While Helias had 11 more, Rock Bridge had had just six to essentially have five more possessions in the nine-point contest.
"That's the game," Light said.
With 2:01 left in the third quarter, Helias got to within 31-29 on a three-point play by Arielle Chambers. But on two successive possessions, the Lady Crusaders had a player get her fourth foul and Rock Bridge scored each time to take control.
By the time Helias scored again three minutes into the final quarter, Rock Bridge had put together a 7-0 spurt to grab the momentum.
"I think fatigue got us a little bit," Light said. "An extra kid out of the rotation creates a little more fatigue.
"During my last timeout, they were gased. All five kids were absolutely shot."
Rock Bridge eventually took its biggest lead at 46-34 and went on to the victory.
Chambers was the only Helias player to score in double figures, as she had 14 and also pulled down a team-high seven rebounds.
Lindsey Cunningham pumped in 19 points to pace Rock Bridge (20-5).
The Lady Crusaders (9-15) will return to action Tuesday in the Class 4 District 10 Tournament at Eldon. Helias is the second seed and will take on third-seeded Eldon.
Light said Thursday's game got the Lady Crusaders ready for postseason play.
"I said it earlier this week, if we would compete, this would be an advantage for us, because nobody in our district will play somebody like (Rock Bridge) to end the season," he said. "Our kids rose to the occasion and fought."
Thursday was Senior Night for the Lady Crusaders, as Chambers, Katie Sauer and Elizabeth Grothoff played their final home game.
In the JV game, Rock Bridge posted a 36-33 win. Emma Verslues scored 13 points for Helias (13-2), which will wrap up the season tonight at Southern Boone.