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Nikes vanquish Crusaders, get rematch with W-MU

Notre Dame assistant coach Mike Koelker calls Notre Dame freshman guard Shay Stephens a “poor man’s Scott Skiles.”

That is in reference to the former Michigan State guard who was known for his uncanny ability to find teammates with nearly impossible passes.

Stephens looked anything but poor Monday night, hitting one open teammate after another.

By the time it was over, Stephens and the Nikes came away with a 68-49 boys’ basketball victory over Holy Trinity in a Class 1A district quarterfinal at Father Minett Gymnasium.

Notre Dame (17-5) advances to a district semifinal to face Winfield-Mount Union (18-4) at 7 p.m. Thursday at Winfield.

The Wolves advanced with a 57-37 win over Wapello.

Holy Trinity bows out with a 9-13 record.

On this night, Stephens was no passing fancy.

“It’s really just my teammates getting open, and they call out to me and it’s just there,” Stephens said. “I like passing. I think the creativity is fun to me.”

“He sees the floor really well. It doesn’t seem like he’s grown a whole lot, but he’s still young,” Notre Dame head coach Dan Kies said of Stephens. “That’s good. He’s been playing ball his whole life. He’s got a really good feel for the game.”

Notre Dame jumped to an 8-0 lead on seven quick points from Liam Delaney and a free throw by Hunter Lillie.

Holy Trinity didn’t score until a layup by Luke Hellige with 4 minutes, 23 seconds left in the opening quarter.

The Crusaders had nine days off between games, and it took them a while to acclimate to the speed of the game.

“It’s just tough. We had kind of a crazy schedule this year,” Holy Trinity coach John Hellige said. “Once we figured out the speed again after that long layoff, I really thought we played well. We just had a few uncharacteristic turnovers. We just had some shots that went in and out for us.”

Trailing 31-17, the Crusaders closed the first half on an 11-3 run. Luke Hellige scored four points, Conner Gehling hit two free throws, Layne Rung buried a 3-pointer and Adam Sobczak had a putback to bring Holy Trinity within 34-28.

A cold start to the third quarter and a hot streak by the Nikes put the game out of reach. Carsen Jones and Matthew Booten were working give-and-goes, and Stephens continued to find open teammates with lobs and perfectly-placed passes as the Nikes gradually pulled away.

“I think this team has been pretty unselfish,” Kies said.

Notre Dame now gets a rematch with W-MU, a team which edged them, 53-52, in the SEI Superconference Shootout on Feb. 4.

“Hopefully, they’ve got the mentality that they’re not ready to be done yet and they are ready to go put it all on the line,” Kies said.