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story.lead_photo.caption The Helias Lady Crusaders celebrate after defeating the Sullivan Lady Eagles 3-1 to win the Class 3 state softball championship in Springfield. Photo by Jason Strickland / News Tribune.

The seniors on the Helias Lady Crusaders softball team had some unfinished business against Sullivan.

Their freshman season ended with a 7-5 loss to Sullivan in the district tournament championship game. Their sophomore campaign finished with a 3-2 loss to the Lady Eagles in the district tournament title contest.

Last fall, the Lady Crusaders got another shot at the Lady Eagles in the postseason. This time, it was for the Class 3 state championship in Springfield.

Helias took an 11-game winning streak into the title game, winning seven of those times via shutout.

But Sullivan wasn't going to be an easy out. The Lady Eagles were making their 11th consecutive postseason appearance that included trips to the Final Four in two of the last three seasons.

"We like what we're doing, we know we're up against it tomorrow, but I think we'll be ready," Helias coach Chris Wyrick said after the Lady Crusaders blanked Incarnate Word 13-0 in the semifinals. "If we keep that mentality tomorrow, I like our chances, because tomorrow's going to be a grind.

"Tomorrow's going to be a tough, tough matchup for us, and we know what we're up against."

It was tough. But the Lady Crusaders were up to the task, posting a 3-1 victory against the Lady Eagles at the Killian Softball Complex.

"Our freshman and sophomore years, we played Sullivan in the district championship and lost," Helias senior outfielder Rylee Kolb said after the win. "So it was really great to come out on top for once."

Kolb played a key role in the win, getting two of Helias' three hits in addition to an RBI and a run scored.

After Sullivan stranded a pair of runners in the top of the first inning against Helias starter Alexa Rehmeier, the Lady Crusaders got on the board in the bottom of the frame. Taylor Woehr led off with a single and was bunted to second by Ella Meyer. Kolb then singled to plate Woehr to make it 1-0.

Helias got its final two runs in the fifth. Holly Hentges was hit by a pitch and stole second. Woehr then bunted Hentges to third before she scored on a squeeze bunt by Meyer to make it 2-0.

Kolb then singled and advanced all the way to third on an error on the play. Kolb then scored on a dribbler off the bat of Kenley Haslag that was booted for an error.

After Sullivan loaded the bases with one out in the third, Lauren Howell came on to pitch for Helias. The Lady Crusaders got the second out of the inning on a play at the plate after a passed ball, then got a strikeout on the ensuing pitch to end the threat.

"It was nerve-racking," Howell said. "But I knew I wanted to do it for Alexa and I wanted to get us out of that, and I was going to do everything I could to do it."

Hannah Cox tallied Sullivan's lone run with a solo homer to start the sixth inning. That was one of just two balls hit out of the infield against Howell, who got a strikeout looking to end the game.

"I'm just really happy for them, because they've endured a lot, they've had some ups and downs this year," Wyrick said. "We were kind of doubting, you know, 'Could we do this?' But they did. They did, and nobody can ever take it away from 'em."

It was the first state softball title for Helias (26-6) since the 2005 season.

III

The crosstown rivalry between the Helias Crusaders and Jefferson City Jays has been a one-sided rivalry on the basketball court for much of the past decade.

But in February, it appeared the Jays were about to snap their seven-game losing streak to the Crusaders.

Not so fast.

Helias may have trailed by 22 points with 10 minutes to play, but the Crusaders staged a memorable comeback to beat the Jays 67-62 at Rackers Fieldhouse.

Jefferson City was hitting shot after shot in the early going, making its first five shots from the floor, then made seven more in a row after the team's first miss. The Jays closed the first half by making their last five shots and went into halftime with a 39-29 lead against Helias.

The lead stretched to 54-32 late in the third quarter.

"I told the guys it was now or never," Helias coach Joe Rothweiler said.

The Crusaders ended the third quarter on a 10-0 run, closing the gap to 12 points. Then, the Jays, who shot 77.2 percent from the floor in the first half, made just two field goals in the fourth quarter.

Helias took the lead with 1:43 to play and outscored Jefferson City 25-8 in the fourth quarter, capping an improbable comeback. Marcus Anthony led the Crusaders with 29 points.

"They're resilient, and they've fought back in many games throughout the season," Rothweiler said. "I knew that we had a chance to get back in it.

"The last two minutes of the third quarter, when we cut it from 22 to 12, I knew we had a chance."

The 2019-20 season was the final one of a home-and-home series between the Jefferson City rivals. Beginning next season, they'll play each other just once, aside from tournament play, as members of the Central Missouri Activities Conference.

III

The Helias Lady Crusaders basketball team needed a win.

Helias was 4-7, losing five of its last six games as four-time defending Class 3 state champion Strafford came to Rackers Fieldhouse.

Stafford had its Missouri record 123-game winning streak snapped a little more than a week earlier with a one-point loss to Republic. But the Lady Indians won their next two games and brought a 9-1 record into the contest.

But this night belonged to the Lady Crusaders, who posted a 55-45 victory against the top-ranked team in Class 3.

"We were just going with it," Helias senior guard Lainy Lamb said.

Strafford led 14-10 after one quarter before Helias used a 7-0 run in the second quarter to take a 31-23 advantage into halftime in what was as strong a performance as the Lady Crusaders had played in quite some time.

"Sometimes we become too mechanical and we wanted to bring our our talent," Helias coach Alan Lepper said. "We came out and played the game of basketball."

Helias led 40-31 after three quarters. The Lady Crusaders led by as many as 15 points in the fourth quarter.

It was Stafford's first double-digit loss since early in the 2015-16 season. The Lady Indians (30-3) went on to win a fifth-straight state championship.

Helias ended the season 15-13, winning its first district tournament championship since 2016.

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