Late collapse denies Crusaders spot in final

Jeff Edgington
Special to West Valley Preps

Northwest Christian led 39-35 with just more than five minutes to play and looked primed for a 3A title game appearance.

However the No. 7 Crusaders couldn’t execute down the stretch and Bryce Andrashie took over for the Falcons.

Northwest Christian junior Zach Johnson (#32) attempts to grab a rebound against Fountain Hills in a 3A semifinal match Friday, Feb. 24, 2017 at Gila River Arena in Glendale. (Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps)

Combined with Joe Wagoner and Larkin Lipps the trio were too much leading an impressive 20-4 game-ending spurt. The Crusaders season ended falling 55-43 to No. 3 seed Fountain Hills Friday at Gila River Arena in Glendale.

The inability to finish down the stretch will haunt this years version of the purple and white. Looking for the glass-half-full side of things. The Crusaders return a solid core of Class of 2018 players.
“It’s bittersweet. Tyler (Kohner) has been such a tremendous student-athlete he’ll be hard to replace. Wesley Hunter was good for us tonight. Our shooter Andrew (Augustine) struggling at 3/12 and Zach (Johnson) couldn’t get going early were the difference,” said Northwest Christian Coach Jason Cook.
The first-half was right where Coach Cook wanted it defensively. Going into the locker room knotted at 22 was critical.
Fountain Hills adjusted and out-shot the Crusaders at the line 19-of-24 to just 6-of-13. That proved costly.
“Andrashie and Lipps got to the rim and they hit their free throws. That sums it up,” Coach Cook said.
Augustine had 13 of his 17 in the first half. The junior couldn’t get going in the second-half.
It was the opposite scenario for Johnson.  Both of them as well as Jonah Hamstra, Jayden Hoyt, Dusty Inness and Dylan Abraham will be back.
Abraham had six crucial points in a stretch during the third quarter surge and it looked like the Crusaders had the game at hand.
The Falcons (21-6) will get No. 9 Winslow in Saturday nights 3A finals. Coach Matthew Keating was ecstatic about his seniors late performance.
“It’s been awhile since the three-peat. We fell to a good Holbrook squad in 2011 but we deserve this. We expect to be there. I’m proud of their effort down four to finish like they did. Larkin and Bryce were big in the final 16 minutes,” Coach Keating said.
Andrashie agreed.
“It feels great. Especially as a senior. I had to just got a shot to get going.” he said.
Andrashie hit just four and had 15, mostly via the line. Wagoner also had 15.
The Crusaders finish 19-9. Seven juniors, including several top players, will file this afternoon away and figure to lead another playoff run next year.
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