For the first time in the long and successful career of Althoff Hall of Fame coach Greg Leib, the Crusaders celebrated ”senior” night Wednesday without a senior in sight.
One day after learning that junior standout Daulton Burgner could be out the rest of the season with an ankle injury, the young Crusaders put the finishing touch on a superb regular season with a 60-49 win over Granite City at Althoff High School.
The South Seven Conference champions playing without a senior on its roster, Althoff (15-13) took command in the third quarter. With four players tallying four points, the Crusaders used a 19-8 run to take a 44-25 lead then breezed the rest of the way as it closed out the regular season on a winning note.
Junior Will Ache led a balanced Althoff attack with 14 points, while three teammates also were in double figures.
“I was pleased. I thought we played well. Granite City is a team which could be a tough out in the playoffs. Their program has really improved,’’ Leib said. “It was tough to hear the news about Daulton (Burgner), but these kids just continue to step up.
“I had never had a senior night without a senior before. We have a lot to look forward to because these kids are so close. They are friends both on and off the court and you can see that in the way they play the game. I really think we can make a little run here in the playoffs.’’
For the Crusaders, that postseason run begins on Tuesday at the Class 3A Freeburg Regional. The Crusaders will take on either the host Freeburg Midgets or South Seven Conference rival Cahokia at 7 p.m.
“Another thing thing that makes this a special group is that they’re great kids. How many times tonight did you see one of our players go to the floor and then see two or three of his teammates run over to help him up. That’s hustle,’ ‘ Leib said. “I’ve only had to get on them once or twice this year about that.
“Its also a very intelligent group of kids. I think our team GPA is something like 3.7. I know I would have never been ablle to play on this team.’’
Junior guard Greg Wells is just one of several players who have stepped up all season for the Crusaders. On Wednesday, Wells was at it again as he added 11 points, while Anthony Reed and Patrick Readye added 10 points each.
“There were times last year where we weren’t on the same page. This year has been totally different,’’ Wells said. “We’re all really close. These guys are my brothers. We hang out together both on and off the court..
“It makes a difference. We’re playing much better as a team this year.’’