Following the Trojans’ 59-44 victory over Russell, the Hillsboro girls’ basketball team went to half court to receive their medals from the HHS cheerleaders. The players then hugged their parents.
That was the extent of the celebration following the Trojans’ third-place victory on Saturday in Hutchinson. They had livelier post game revelries after most regular season affairs.
A third-place win is different when it’s the third bronze in a row. The Trojans desperately wanted to play four hours later in the championship game.
“Goals are goals, and we set them high,” senior forward Tena Loewen said. “It’s disappointing when you don’t reach them, but that’s life. We’re blessed to be here and play this game.”
Most of the players on the Hillsboro squad were part of at least one state championship team in another sport. Junior guard Danae Bina played on both state volleyball teams and the state softball team from last season. There is a certain amount of pride involved with being that accomplished. None of those players wanted to end the 2012-13 season with a loss.
Their competition in the third-place game was Russell, a team with two key senior contributors, Madison Beagley and Chantal Prester, but a supporting cast made up of juniors and sophomores.
Hillsboro took it to their young opponents to start the game, opening up with a 6-0 run. The Trojans attacked the basket for two layups and two free throws. On defense, they recorded two steals and Bina forced a five-second call on point guard Alex Ptacek.
“I’m proud of the way they came out. They came out focused,” head coach Nathan Hiebert said. “It shows the character of these girls and the character of the team.”
Led by two 3-pointers from Beagley, Russell went on a 7-0 run in the first quarter and tied the game at 13 in the second quarter. With the game at 25-22, Hillsboro went on an 8-0 run with four fast-break layups. The Trojans scoring in the first half was diverse with Loewen and Bina leading the way with 10 points and Lackey shortly behind with seven and Maci Schlehuber with five.
Two trends in the first half held true for the rest of the game. The Trojans had made three 3-pointers in the first half. Hillsboro took more jump shots than usual to take advantage of Russell’s 2-3 and 1-3-1 zone defenses. Hiebert attributed this to the team playing loose.
“We just decided we wanted to come out and have fun,” Loewen said.
Hillsboro frustrated Russell with pressure on whichever player brought up the ball. Penetration from Ptacek was key to Russell runs in the second and third quarters. Bina shut that down in the second half.
“Her defense is stupendous,” Loewen said.
Bina was the leading scorer for Hillsboro with 21 points in the game.
“Danae is a girl that goes hard no matter what,” Loewen said.
Although Russell reduced the margin to six points, 36-30, in the third quarter, the Trojans responded with an 8-2 run to end the period with a 12-2 lead. The Trojans expanded that lead in the fourth quarter by as much as 16 points.
Loewen’s defense was also important to that expansion. Beagley was Russell’s leading scorer with 15 points. She scored 12 points in the first half and three in the second half. This was in part to her to bringing up the ball and quickly passing into the post for Russell’s offense.
Loewen had 13 points, seven rebounds, two assists, and two steals in her final Hillsboro basketball game. Fellow senior Maci Schlehuber scored nine points and recorded two steals. Lackey also scored nine points.
Lackey and Bina represent a strong core of returning players for Hillsboro. Loewen said she is excited to see what the team can accomplish, once the inevitable rebuilding period is over. She also said the experience would likely be bittersweet because she’ll want to join her friends on the court.
“It will be hard to watch them,” Loewen said.
There was a reason Burlington went into the game Friday at 24-0, and it was not because they played easy competition.
The Wildcats had too many weapons for the Trojans to handle, leading to a 55-45 victory. Making Hillsboro’s defense look porous is a rare feat. Burlington went on to win the state championship with a 52-42 win over Garden Plain on Saturday.
Burlington’s best player is senior Madison Stewart. Stewart scored 19 points in the game; she had 15 in the first half. She hit four 3-pointers rolling off screens at the baseline up to the left wing of the court. Head coach Nathan Hiebert originally assigned Lackey to cover the Burlington sharp shooter, but Lackey struggled to fight around screens. After the first quarter, Bina took over the assignment. She held Stewart to just five points in the second half.
Bina was guarding point guard Brenna Bluma. That assignment went to Lackey. At times, Lackey struggled to contain Bluma’s penetration, which created opportunities for Jacquelyn O’Connor, Shelbi Emling, and Hailey Gilman down low. Bluma scored 12 points; however, seven points came from free throws in the fourth quarter.
Schlehuber drew the defensive assignment of shooting guard Sarah Pearson. Schlehuber struggled to stop Pearson from driving for most of the game. She scored 12 points.
With players penetrating at will, Hillsboro forwards had to rotate to stop drives. This action forced them to pick up fouls and give up lanes for offensive rebounds. Gilman, Emling, Pearson, O’Connor, and Madison Stadel all recorded offensive rebounds in the game.
“The same thing happened last year,” Hiebert said. “They got what they wanted on offense.”
Although Burlington built a seven-point lead by the third quarter, the Trojans did ramp up their defense to make a run in the final period.
Two layups from Lackey and a layup from Loewen reduced the Burlington lead to just three, 44-41 with 3:45 remaining in the contest. Lackey traded baskets with Pearson and then Bina had the best opportunity for the Trojans to tie the game with a corner 3-pointer that just rimmed out. The Wildcats sealed the contest hitting eight free throws.
Lackey was held to just three points in the first half. She went on a tear in the second to get the Trojans within range with 16 points in the second half. Lackey also had two assists and two blocks.
“She did not want to lose,” Hiebert said.
Loewen scored 13 points in the game. She scored seven points in the first quarter. Bina scored six points for Hillsboro. She was stymied by the defense of Bluma who had six steals in the game.
The Trojans had an opportunity to reduce an eight-point margin early in the third quarter. Hillsboro recorded four consecutive stops by forcing a Burlington turnover, getting a block from Lackey, and getting two missed shots from Stewart. Hillsboro could not score during the defensive surge until Lackey hit a 3-pointer, which was quickly answered by Pearson.
The game on March 6 had all the ingredients of an upset.
One team, Holcomb was shooting lights out. The Longhhorns sank five 3-pointers in the first half of the game. The Trojans struggled to contain Holcomb’s three-guard attack through three quarters.
Taylor Deniston scored 13 points with three 3-pointers. Kaitlyn Pfeifer scored 11 points, hitting two threes, and orchestrated the Longhorns offense with penetration and kick outs. Kyshia Prieto scored nine points. Each player could shoot over or blow by a defender depending on the situation.
On the other hand, Hillsboro was playing uncharacteristic basketball. While they forced five turnovers in the first half, the Trojans did not record a steal until the fourth quarter. Related, the Trojans did record a fast break basket until late in the third quarter.
As a micro example of the way the Trojans looked, Tena Loewen missed an open put back attempt on an offensive rebound and an open layup on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter. That sequence of events had not occurred this season for Hillsboro.
With all of these factors in play, the Trojans found themselves down 31-24 with 4 minutes, 54 seconds remaining in the third quarter. The team did not panic, instead responding by dialing up the intensity on its man-to-man defense and attacking the basket on offense. In other words, they played Hillsboro basketball.
“We were confident in each other,” senior guard Maci Schlehuber said.
A 14-2 Hillsboro run began with a Maddi Duerksen pull-up jump shot. With a Pfeifer free throw in between, Alex Ratzlaff knocked down a contested layup. On the next possession, Lackey took a rebound and started a fast break, assisting Danae Bina on a layup for the Trojans first fast break points of the game. Pfiefer hit another free throw before the end of the third quarter but the Trojans were within a possession, 33-30.
To start the fourth, Tena Loewen hit two free throws after being fouled on a post up opportunity. Schlehuber said getting Loewen the ball was a conscious decision in the fourth quarter. Loewen was the leading scorer for Hillsboro with 14 points, but she only had two baskets. She shot 10-for-10 from the free-throw line with four of those trips coming in the fourth quarter.
“Tena was making good cuts and we kept feeding her,” Schlehuber said.
The Trojans kept rolling. Loewen recorded a steal that led to a Schlehuber layup. Then there was the play that gave the Trojans all the momentum. Bina hit a put-back layup on an offensive rebound and was fouled by Kylee Amos. The basket and free throw gave Hillsboro its first lead since the first quarter, 35-30.
“That got us all pumped up,” Schlehuber said.
Pfeifer missed a wide-open three on the other end, which Lackey answered with a corner three that rattled in. Karissa Pena hit a midrange jump shot to end Holcomb’s field goal drought, but the damage was done. The Trojans did most of their fourth quarter scoring from the free-throw line with Holcomb in foul trouble. Hillsboro pulled away with a 53-46 victory.
Credit is due to Lackey for keeping the Trojans in the game in the first half. Lackey scored 13 points in the game, eight in the first half. Lackey’s defense against Pfeifer in the second half, fighting around multiple screens and only allowing the quick silver Holcomb point guard one field goal was also important in the victory. Lackey had four assists for Hillsboro.
“Addie’s intensity really helped us out,” Schlehuber said. “Her offense helped us keep our spirits up.”
Bina scored 10 points. Schlehuber had eight points and three assists. Loewen led the team in rebounds with nine boards.
Senior forward Christina Morris played the entire fourth quarter and helped solidify the Trojans defense against Holcomb’s dribble penetration.
Fellow senior Erin Winter had two baskets in the first half, on assists from Schlehuber. Freshman forward Alex Ratzlaff made her contribution on defense, guarding a myriad of different Holcomb players and recording a block in the process.