It’s been said that defense wins championships, but when both teams play great defense anything can happen.
In a defensive battle royale, the Hillsboro girls held off Haven, 43-32,to win the Class 3A sub-state tournament championship Saturday on their home court. Hillsboro will be making its fifth straight trip to Hutchinson next week in coach Nathan Hiebert’s six-year tenure.
Before the game was over, both teams endured long stretches of minimal scoring. Haven’s came first.
The Wildcats scored the first two points of the night on a pair of free throws by Hailey Davis 1:11 into the contest, but didn’t score a field goal until MaKayla Stucky scored in the lane at the 2:29 mark of the second quarter—a 13:21 stretch without a basket.
Hillsboro, meanwhile, got off to a relatively good start on offense, scoring 10 straight points to take a 10-3 lead at the end of the quarter after Haven made a third free throw.
The Trojans’ best stretch from the field came in the first 2:12 of the second quarter. They scored nine unanswered points to push the margin to the biggest spread of the night, 19-3, with 5:48 to play in the second period.
Addie Lackey accounted for five of those points with a three-pointer from the corner and a driving layup.
“I was really proud of the girls,” Hiebert said. “They frustrated Haven, we forced them into some quick threes early on, and I think that really bothered them. They got flustered and more nervous.
“We got some good buckets early,” he added. “Addie hit some nice shots.”
But the direction of the game changed radically as the second quarter began. This time Hillsboro hit a dry spell. The Trojans managed only two points the rest of the quarter — on a basket at the buzzer by Danae Bina—to lead 21-10 at intermission.
But the drought continued through most of the third quarter. The Trojans got a pair of free throws early, but didn’t score again until Lackey hit a 15-footer with 1:19 left in the period—ending a spell of 12:30 where Hillsboro scored a total of four points.
Bina’s free throw with 6.7 seconds left gave Hillsboro a 26-16 lead heading into the last quarter.
“These games are tough,” Hiebert said about the dry spell. “It’s a lot of pressure for our girls. They know they’re supposed to be the ones to go to state. But it’s not easy. We were playing not to lose instead of playing to win.”
Hillsboro led 32-21 after Maci Schlehuber hit a pair of free throws with 4:18 to play. The Trojans didn’t make a field goal the rest of the game—in fact, they didn’t even attempt one.
It was apparent Haven was going to force Hillsboro to win at the free-throw line, where they’ve been less than stellar in recent weeks. But the Trojans made eight free throws in a row and 11 of 14 over the final 2:03 of the game. Five different Trojans made a charitable donation down the stretch. For the game, Hillsboro made 21 of 27.
“We talked about how (making free throws) was key to our first win against Haven, and it was key to the win tonight,” Hiebert said.
Lackey and Bina tied for team scoring honors with 12 points a piece.
With the win, Hillsboro will travel to Hutchinson with a 21-2 record. By leading a Trojan team to the state tournament for five years in a row, Hiebert eclipses the school record set by Becky Carlson, who took teams to Hutch four years in a row twice over a nine-year span.
Hillsboro 59, SE of Saline 28
In the end, it was one more mismatch victory for the home team—at least once Hillsboro got through the first two minutes of the game.
Southeast actually scored the first basket, while Hillsboro missed its first five shots before Addie Lackey tied the game at the 6:04 mark with a basket. The score ignited an 8-0 run that led to a 17-6 margin by the end of the first quarter.
Coach Nathan Hiebert said seeing the top-seeded Marion boys lose to a No. 4 seed might have caused his girls to tighten up just a bit at the start.
“When you see those things, and you know Southeast is a good team—and they were really scrappy at first,” he said.
But the Trojans found their stride, pushing the lead to 27-10 when Tena Loewen hit back-to-back mid-range jumpers, the second one coming with 4:21 left in the second quarter.
Loewen scored one more basket in the final second on an inbounds pass from Lackey to give Hillsboro a 33-16 lead at intermission.
With its pressure defense providing the fuel, Hillsboro exerted its dominance in the third quarter with an 18-5 surge. That gave the home team a 51-20 lead at the end of the quarter—enough to kick in the running clock for the final quarter for the 13th time this season.
Loewen finished with 21 points for the game to lead all scorers. Lackey added 13 and Danae Bina 11. As a team, Hillsboro shot 44 percent from the field (26-59).
Southeast shot a respectable 38 percent, but put up less than half as many shots, mostly because the Hillsboro defense forced 31 turnovers by the time the game was over.
Hiebert said a first-quarter injury to Southeast’s point guard contributed to the turnovers.
“She doesn’t come out much, and so when you rely on her to handle the ball, it really affects the team,” Hiebert said.
“I was pretty pleased with our girls defensively,” he added. “We frustrated them and took them out of what they wanted to do. Even if your own shots aren’t falling, if you can keep the other team from scoring you’re going to keep yourself in the game.”
Hillsboro 64, Marion 13
Hillsboro accomplished what a No. 1 seed should accomplish Wednesday by taking care of No. 8 Marion in the delayed first round of sub-state play at Brown Gymnasium.
Going into the game, the biggest question was how the loss of practice time because of recent snowstorms would affect play. The answer for Hillsboro was: Not noticeably.
Addie Lackey scored off a steal 21 seconds into the contest and Hillsboro went on a 16-0 run over the first 4:30. Four Trojans scored in the quarter, led by Danae Bina with eight of Hillsboro’s final 10 points of the period.
Bina picked up where she left off, nailing a three-pointer to start the second period, and Hillsboro was on its way to a 29-3 lead by halftime. Bina scored 13 of her game-high 18 points in the first two quarters.
Fueling Hillsboro’s offense was its defensive pressure, which contributed to 19 Marion turnovers by halftime and limited the Warriors to 1-for-16 shooting.
The Trojans started the third period with a 9-0 run before Kaelyn Thierolf broke the ice with a pair of free throws at the 6:18 mark. Marion scored two more baskets before the third period was over, but the Trojans had the game well in hand by the end of it, 57-9.
With a running clock to start the final quarter, Coach Nathan Hiebert cleared his bench at the 6:15 mark with Hillsboro leading 59-9. Kirsten Hansen hit a pair of three throws at that point to put the Warriors into double digits.
“I thought the girls did a great job, especially defensively,” Hiebert said. “We got a lot of turnovers and easy buckets, which helped us with some runs at times.”
Bina added seven steals, three assists and eight rebounds to her 18 points. Tena Loewen scored 15 points on 5-for-6 shooting from both the field and the free-throw line and tied Bina with eight rebounds. Lackey had six rebounds and four assists to go with her 12 points.
As a team, the Trojans shot 50 percent from the floor (25-50), with 21 steals on defense contributing to a total of 29 Warrior turnovers.
Marion, which ended its season with a 5-16 record, shot just under 12 percent from the floor (4-34). Hansen led the team with seven points.
“I think most of us at Marion feel like we’ve got some kind of a mental block against Hillsboro,” said Marion coach Kelly Robson. “They are better than us, but I don’t know that they’re 50 points better than us—but tonight they were.
“We get our feelings hurt and we kind of go in a little bit of a shell, and then we just don’t play very well,” he added. “You know that’s the way sports goes sometimes. And that’s the way it was for us in this one.”