It’s one postseason trophy in the books for the Althoff Crusaders, who hope to add three more to that cache – including one big one in Peoria at the end – before their season is done.
The Highland Bulldogs came out of the gates full of fight, but that wasn’t enough for them to withstand a 24-4 second-quarter blitz, which helped carry Althoff to an 81-56 victory in Friday’s championship game of the Class 3A Triad Regional.
With the win, Althoff (27-2) advances to the Highland Sectional on Tuesday where it will play Mount Vernon in a 7 p.m semifinal. Mount Vernon (18-10) advanced with a 49-34 victory over Murphysboro in the title game of Marion Regional on Friday.
“This is a big win for us, but it’s just another step along the way,” said Althoff junior standout Jordan Goodwin, who led the Crusaders with 23 points and 12 rebounds. “We’ve got to play better than we did in that first quarter, because we know everyone is going to give us their best shot.
“We’ve got to play hard against everybody, like we did in the second quarter, if we want to get to where we want to go.”
The Crusaders, who finished second in last season’s Class 3A state tournament, came into the game ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press final regular-season Class 3A poll and were No. 25 in this week’s MaxPreps XCellent 25 national rankings.
Showing little fear of Althoff’s athletic interior defenders, Highland found success taking the ball to the basket during the early going. Austin Elledge scored six first-quarter points and Brode Portell had seven, including a 3-pointer with 28 seconds remaining that gave the Bulldogs a 17-16 lead.
However, Althoff’s Keenan Young sank a free-throw line jumper 16 seconds later, putting the Crusaders up 18-17 after a quarter.
That’s when the roof fell in on the Bulldogs, as Althoff exploded for that 24-4 run which lasted the duration of the second period.
A pair of Goodwin free throws ignited the outburst. It was followed by four 3-pointers in a span of 2 minutes and 40 seconds – two from Young and one apiece from Goodwin and Marvin Bateman – as Althoff’s advantage quickly grew from a point to 14.
By the time the quarter ended, the Crusaders led 42-21 and the outcome was really no longer in doubt.
Goodwin finished with 11 of Althoff’s 24 points in the quarter.
“When you’ve got guys who can shoot it, like we do, that does a good job of creating space on the floor,” said Althoff coach Greg Leib. “And that’s what happened in the second quarter. The guys adjusted and got us onto the right track.
“I also thought Jordan and C.J. did an impressive job of putting pressure on their defense with their offensive rebounding. We got good things out of a number of our players tonight.”
Despite the strong start, Highland coach Matt Elledge knew it was a matter of time before Althoff’s inevitable offensive explosion. It just depended where his team stood when it was over.
“It really hurt us when they got hot with their threes in the second quarter,” said Elledge, who team drew no closer than 19 points in the second half. “And we also started to take some poor shots, trying to catch up.
“They’ve got so many people you have to try and stop. I also wished we could have rebounded a little better, especially on the offensive boards.”
Goodwin’s 24 points led five Crusaders into double-digit scoring. Brendon Gooch finished with 14, followed by Young with 12, Coldon with 11 and Tarkus Ferguson had 10.
“Keenan was good tonight. Tark had a good game. Marv (Bateman) was shooting it,” said Leib. “And I thought Marv’s defense in the second half was superb. The Elledge kid is quite a player, a coach’s kid who has the keys to the gym, and we knew it was important that we try and slow him down.”
Brode Portell topped Highland with 20 points, 13 in the second half. Austin Elledge, the Bulldogs’ top scorer, capped a strong high school career with 15 points.
“We had a decent game plan early on,” said Matt Elledge, “ and the kids did a nice job. But we got cold after the first quarter and they got hot, and that was the 20-point difference in the ballgame.
“I can’t say enough about our team, especially my seniors, who’ve been with me for four years, they didn’t back down from Althoff, went right at them. They’re just an awfully good team.”
Up next for Althoff, a third meeting of the season with Mount Vernon. The Crusaders own wins of 88-56 and 103-69 over the Rams, the second coming in their regular-season finale on Feb. 26.
“We’ve very familiar with each other,” Leib said of Mount Vernon. “They’re tough, play great basketball, coach (Doug) Creel does a great job with them. It will not be a light effort on Tuesday.”