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Cougars square off with highly-ranked squads during the three day tournament, win two of three games

The Country Christian boys basketball team had an active start to the new year, winning two of three games at the Crusader Classic at Salem Academy High School. The Cougars opened with a 59-47 win over Portland Christian on Dec. 30, followed by a 61-52 victory over Crosshill Christian on Dec. 31. The finished the tournament with a nail-biter of a loss to Crane by a 54-52 score on New Year's Day. Coach Dawson Nofziger said the Jan. 1 battle with second-ranked Crane in the championship game was a good one.

The Herald-Pioneer. "It is one of the best games I've been a part of that had a late February playoff intensity from start to finish," Nofziger said of the battle with the second-ranked Mustangs. Both teams gave as good as they got in the first half with Crane holding a one-point advantage at the break. "Our defensive pressure coming out of the half, led by Jaxon Bafford, let to a three-point lead going into the fourth quarter," Nofziger said. "The game came down to the final possession with a one-point deficit, but we couldn't get the final shot to go." Bafford and Matthew Weissenbrunner each had game highs with 12 point apiece. Cooper Halverson and Rhett Johnson chipped in eight points each for the Cougars. "It was a great game and even thought we didn't come out with the win we learned a lot of lessons and got some playoff-type experience that I am convinced will help us out later in the season," Halverson said.

Country Christian 59, Portland Christian 47 "The first game of the tournament was a slow one for the boys," Halverson said. "Having an extended break over the holiday definitely showed as it was a grind to put the ball in the hold in the first half. Our defense was consistent all game and the pressure put on their guards eventually wore them down by late in the second half." The Cougars broke this one open in the third quarter, outscoring Portland Christian by a 20-10 count. From there, Country Christian was able to maintain the gap and hold on for the win. Weissenbrunner led the way offensively with 22 points, with Bafford adding eight and Christian Griffith, Halverson and Johnson all contributing seven points. Country Christian 61, Crosshill Christian 52

"The semifinal game was a great contest and we had our hands full with the #3 ranked 1A team in the state," Halverson said "Our gameplan was executed well and, again, our pressure throughout the game carried our defense and in many instances got us transition buckets." Halverson was on fire early from the outside, hitting five three-pointers in the first half. He finished with a game high 22 pts on 7-of-9 from three-point land. Weissenbrunner added 14 points "as we closed out the game with a 21-point fourth quarter to get the big upset win," the coach said. 

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