A huge basket by the smallest man on the court powered the Hillsboro Trojans into the sub-state finals Thursday night as the home team defeated No. 1-seeded Hutchinson Trinity, 58-57, in overtime.
Gavin Serene, Hillsboro’s Mighty Mite at 5-feet-7 (allegedly), drained a 3-point basket from the left wing with 17 seconds left in the extra period. When Daniel Jost stole the ball with less than seven seconds left, Serene’s basket became the game-winner, capping a dramatic come-from-behind victory for the fifth-seeded Trojans.
Hillsboro got off to a blazing start, thanks to a pair of 3-pointers by Clay Shewey in the first 1:20 of the game. But Trinity showed why they came in as the top seed, and matched the Trojans basket for basket.
When Hillsboro hit an 0-for-6 drought through the last 3:30 of the quarter, the Celtics accelerated into a 13-0 run that gave them to a 23-12 lead at the first break.
But Hillsboro scored the first seven points of the second quarter to jump right back into contention. By halftime the Celtic lead stood at six, 30-24.
Aided by three Celtic turnovers, the Trojans started the third quarter with four unanswered baskets — two by Loewen and one each by Daniel Jost and Shewey — to take the lead at 32-30 with 5:47 left in the period.
The two teams scrapped back and forth the entire period, but Trinity held the lead after three quarters, 44-43.
The fourth quarter was more of the same, as both teams combined some untimely turnovers with some timely baskets.
When Serene drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 1:18 left in regulation, the game was tied at 53. A combination of good defense by Hillsboro and patient execution by Trinity had drained the clock to under 30 seconds when Hutch’s Connor Reilly missed two cracks at the basket in the paint. Shewey grabbed the rebound after the second miss and Hillsboro played for the final shot.
But, with less then 10 seconds left, Jost turned the ball over giving Trinity one last crack at the basket. To the relief of Trojan fans, Ryan Mesh’s baseline jumper bounced off the side of the rim, sending the game into OT.
The extra period started raggedly as the two teams combined for five turnovers in the first 2 minutes. Andrew Labenz scored on a putback with 1:57 to give Trinity the first points.
After Serene missed the front end of a one-and-one with 1:30 left, Reilly scored off a steal and was fouled with 1:23 to go. He missed the free throw.
Hillsboro rebounded, and seconds later Serene missed a jumper. But Shewey was there to rebound and scored the putback with 1:09 to go. He was fouled on the basket, but missed the bonus charity.
Trinity had another chance to extend its 57-55 lead when Michael Mesh was fouled with 47.7 seconds left. But the freshman missed both ends of the double-bonus, giving Hillsboro new life.
The two teams traded turnovers once more both an open Serene drained what proved to be the winning shot with 17 seconds left. When Jost followed with his win-assuring steal, the Trojans earned a shot at a state tournament berth in the finals.
Jost, with an outstanding game, finished as Hillsboro top scorer with 17 points. But he was followed closely by Shewey with 15 and Serene and Loewen with 12 each. Reilly scored 19 and Ryan Mesh 17 to pace Trinity.
Hillsboro will play against a dangerously hot Lyons squad that upset No. 2-seeded Sedgwick team in the early game. The 10-11 Lions, who upset third-seeded Halstead on Monday, had lost to Hillsboro by 25 points Feb. 19, but they are on a huge roll as the season rises to a climax.
Hillsboro, now 13-9 for the season, will take the court at 7:30 p.m. Saturday for a chance to claim the tournament title in front of the home fans.