JEFFERSON CITY — Poor shooting in the first quarter put Hickman behind early and the Kewpies could not recover.
Helias will play tournament host and top seed Jefferson City at 7 p.m. Friday for the district championship.
Second-seeded Hickman (12-14) hit just two of its first 11 shots and trailed 12-4 at the end of the first quarter. For the game, the Kewpies shot 30 percent from field goal range.
Coach Jim Sutherland had only one explanation for his team’s play: fear.
“I thought we played afraid,” he said. “For almost a quarter and a half we did nothing.”
Third-seeded Helias (17-10) certainly didn’t look scared in the fourth quarter.
Hickman took its first lead at 29-28 on a Mikel Fields jump shot 10 seconds into the final period. Helias’s Adam Knollmeyer responded with an inbounds dunk with 6:50 to go. The lead changed hands six times in the fourth quarter. Knollmeyer had 10 points for Helias and Fields had 12 points and 10 rebounds for Hickman.
The Crusaders took the lead for good on two Kyle Wilde free throws with 1:37 left. Wilde led the Crusaders with 13 points.
“Our only downfall all season has been turning the ball over and not playing with enough intensity,” Wilde said. “Tonight we came out with a little more intensity.”
Hickman’s best chance at a win came when senior Bret Burchard stepped to the free-throw line with 30.9 seconds left with the Kewpies trailing 40-39.
Burchard’s first free throw attempt bounced off the back of the rim and rolled onto the top of the backboard, giving the ball to Helias.
Two Dane Highes free throws gave the Crusaders a 43-39 lead with just under 15 seconds to play. Taylor Florence’s long field goal cut Helias’s lead to two points with 7.4 seconds to go, but Hickman was unable to foul Helias on its ensuing possession and the Crusaders played keep away from the Kewpies as the final seconds ran off the clock.
Sutherland said his team’s tentative play frustrated him.
“I thought we would play significantly better,” he said.
Sutherland had reason to be disappointed. Earlier this season Hickman defeated Helias 46-42 at home.
“In all honesty we played (Hickman) better the first time we played them,” Crusaders coach Jerry Buescher said. “But then again, Hickman did not play as well either (tonight).”