Trying to score on the Hillsboro girls’ basketball team is like driving nails into concrete. It’s possible, but it will take considerable effort.
The Trojans faced their toughest opponent so far this season in the final of the Trojan Classic Tournament. Heading into the game, the Wamego Red Raiders were ranked No. 1 in 4A. “Were” is the word because the Trojans earned a 51-50 victory on their home floor for their first ever Trojan Classic title.
Wamego had the two best players the Trojans will see all season, head coach Nathan Hiebert said — Kaylee and Lanie Page. The Page sisters, a junior and sophomore respectively, are both 6-foot-2, can dribble the length of the floor, shoot 3-pointers with accuracy, drive to the basket like guards, post up, and block shots.
“There were some D-1 coaches here,” Hiebert said. “They said these girls could have helped some teams this year.”
It was quite a defensive assignment for Tena Loewen, Addie Lackey, and Danae Bina. Loewen was most often matched up against Kaylee, the more polished of the two Page girls.
Usually, Loewen uses her 5-foot-11 height to guard opposing post players. Against Kaylee Page, she shadowed her up the court when the Wamego forward brought up the ball. She also fronted Page whenever she tried to post up; Loewen completely denied that scoring avenue. Kaylee Page also went 0-for-5 from 3-point range in the game. Loewen wanted to force Kaylee Page to take tough midrange shots. Kaylee Page shot 5-for-16 from the field to score 13 points.
“I was making her work,” Loewen said. “Keeping a hand in her face.”
Lackey was the primary defender against Lanie Page. Lanie Page scored 20 points, the most in the game, but shot 6-for-15 from the field. After she knocked down a 3-pointer in the first quarter, Lackey and Bina guarded her close at the arc.
Lanie Page was most often the benefactor when the Page girls would set screens for one another. The Trojans had to figure out whether to switch on the screen or fight through it. Once the Trojans started switching the screen, the strategy stopped yielding easy buckets.
“I enjoyed guarding them,” Lackey said. “It kept me focused.”
Despite Hillsboro holding the Red Raiders to 30.6 percent shooting for the game, the contest still came down to a few crucial plays in the fourth quarter.
The game was tied after three quarters. Lackey took over on offense in the fourth. She started the period with a jumper over Lanie Page. She put the Trojans up 42-37, spinning in the lane and hitting a layup. After Lanie Page hit a layup plus a foul shot, Lackey knocked down a jumper at the right elbow after a short drive. Lackey scored 9 of her 18 points in the fourth quarter.
“I was just playing,” Lackey said. “I was doing what felt good.”
Broken up by a Maci Schlehuber 13-foot jumper, Lakyn Rowden hit two 3-pointers for Wamego and put the Red Raiders up 48-46 for the first time in the quarter. After forcing a Hillsboro turnover with 2:09 left in the game, both Pages lined up near the Wamego bench and handed the ball off to one another to kill time. Bina fouled Allison Seufert, who knocked down two free throws.
On the following possession, Hillsboro guard Maddi Duerksen was fouled on the floor by Rachel Griffitt. She calmly knocked down both foul shots to put Hillsboro within 2 points, 50-48. Hiebert praised Duerksen, a Hillsboro role player, for coming through in a clutch situation.
Two possessions later with the score still 50-48 Wamego, the Trojans got a lucky break with an over-and-back call; Rowden received the ball from Kaylee Page just behind the timeline.
The Trojans whipped the ball around the perimeter and then quickly dumped a pass into Christina Morris in the post. With Lanie Page crashing down on her, Morris kicked the ball out to Lackey. Lackey calmly knocked down the open 3-pointer from the left wing. When asked how she felt about the shot, Lackey responded with only an audible noise like she had bit into a tasty cookie. The shot put Hillsboro up, 51-50.
The teams traded turnovers and Wamego had the ball with 44.1 seconds left. The ball went to Kaylee Page who drove at Loewen along the left baseline. Staying in front of her, Loewen forced Kaylee Page to shoot an off-balance, fadeaway shot from about 6-feet away that clanged off the rim. Loewen secured the rebound, one of eight boards for her in the game, and was quickly fouled with 5.2 seconds left.
Loewen missed the free throw, but Kaylee Page could not hit a halfcourt shot.
The Trojans took Hesston’s best shot and then threw it back in the Swathers’ collective face on Thursday.
The Trojans won the game, 53-34. Hesston used a roster of players all of which were 5-foot-6 or taller, employed an aggressive trapping defense, and had the tallest player on the floor, who scored 14 points. Before the game, Hesston was ranked No. 4 in 4A The contest should not have been that lopsided.
The Swathers played physical and tenacious defense. They wanted to bully the Trojans on their home floor. The Trojans responded with a disciplined game. They won the turnover margin, 18-12. Hillsboro only committed three turnovers in the second half when Hesston increased the frequency and intensity of half-court and corner traps.
“We have a lot of experience,” Hiebert said. “They kept their head. They didn’t get rattled. We took care of every possession.”
Hillsboro outrebounded Hesston, 22-19. Credit goes to the Trojans top rebounders — Loewen with six, Schlehuber with six, and Lackey with five — who quickly scrambled to loose balls off the rim. Hillsboro post players Erin Winter and Morris also deserve some love for keeping 6-foot post player Kelsey Unruh off the glass; the Hesston center had zero rebounds.
The Trojans shot 52.6 percent from the field and held Hesston to 27 percent shooting. Hillsboro went 3-for-4 from beyond 3-point the arc and 9-for-12 from the free-throw line.
Two stretches of the game were of utmost important for Hillsboro. Lackey, the Trojans’ most creative offensive player sat out the majority of the second quarter with two fouls.
After a Hesston timeout, the Trojans had a scoring drought for about 2 minutes of game time and Hesston chipped the Hillsboro lead down to 19-12. As Hiebert said, the Trojans did not panic. Bina executed a curling cut around Morris in the high post to get an open layup.
Next possession, Duerksen got open on a back-door cut with Loewen finding her out of the high post for a lay-in. Schlehuber recorded a steal on defense, starting a fast break that led to two Bina free-throw makes. The Trojans ended the quarter on a 6-0 run and a 25-12 lead.
Hillsboro started the third on a 6-0 run. Bina hit a layup despite a foul following a Loewen block and a ¾-court pass from Lackey lobbed over a trailing defender. On a second fast break, Lackey converted a Bina assist. Lackey hit another layup on a backdoor cut with an assist from Loewen.
The game was one of Hillsboro’s better passing nights this season; the team totaled 10 assists. The best pass of the night came later in the third quarter. Lackey threaded the ball past a Hesston defender to find Morris who converted a layup with a foul.
But Hesston made a push in the third quarter. The Swathers scored 13 points in the frame.
The Trojans responded by attacking the basket through Loewen who repeatedly hit contested layups. A lot of responsibility was put on Loewen in the game. In the third quarter, she often took the ball over half court, patiently working around a two-player trap. She also guarded Hesston’s best player, Caylee Richardson. Even though Richardson was hampered after her knee buckled in the first quarter, Loewen held her scoreless in the game.
Loewen had five points in the third quarter. She finished the game with seven points in the fourth quarter for 16 points.
“Tena was definitely focused,” Hiebert said.