The Hillsboro girls enjoyed a fruitful first half in their season opener against a quality Smoky Valley squad on Monday (Dec. 3). But in the end the Trojans got “Pihl-ed” by the Vikings in Lindsborg, 47-40.
Smoky Valley’s senior standout guard, Rhys Pihl, poured in 26 points, including 15 in the second half, to lead her team to victory in the first round of pool play in the Cheney Cardinal Classic.
The Trojans held the upper hand for most of the first half, and extended their lead to 20-14 when Amy Neufeld followed a 3-point basket with a 17-footer within the arc at the 2:22 mark of the second period.
But the Vikings hit eight straight free-throws in the final 1:51 to take a 22-21 lead into the locker room.
“We talked about coming into the game attacking and being aggressive and not being on our heels,” said Nathan Hiebert, who was making his debut as a varsity coach. “I think it caught Smoky Valley a little off guard.
“I think that with us losing so many people from last year, they wondered what we were going to do. But the girls were up to the challenge and attacked them and did some nice things.”
Pihl set the tone for the second half with a driving layup in the opening seconds. Hillsboro responded with consecutive baskets from Dakota Kaufman and Amanda Faber to take one last lead at 25-24.
Over the next 3:17, Pihl reeled off six unanswered points and Jacey Cullop tacked on one more basket, prompting a Trojan timeout and a 32-25 deficit.
With the Vikings leading 35-29 going into the fourth quarter, Pihl launched another offensive surge, scoring Smoky’s next seven points. Jordan Sherwood added one more basket to give the Vikings their biggest lead of the night, 44-33, with 4:20 to play.
But Hillsboro did not quit. Faber ignited a 7-3 run down the stretch with a layup off a steal to bring the game to its seven-point final margin.
Kaufman led the Trojan attack with 13 points, Faber finished with 10 and Neufeld 9. As a team, Hillsboro shot a respectable 44 percent (17-39) from the floor, but made only four of 10 free throws.
The Vikings, meanwhile, went to the charity stripe 22 times and made 18, which more than compensated for their 35 percent shooting (13-37) from the floor.
Pihl made eight of her 12 shots, including two of four 3-pointers and all eight of her free-throw opportunities. Smoky’s next highest scorer managed 7 points.
The Vikings had eight more rebounds (30-22) and two fewer turnovers (15-17) than Hillsboro.
Considering the quality of the opposition, Hiebert said he was pleased with the way his girls competed.
“We had a lot of questions on what girls would step up and what would they do,” he said. “But every girl who went there gave it their best and we gave Smoky a battle. Smoky Valley’s a good team. I’m proud of these girls and what they did.”
Hiebert said his team needs to improve on protecting the ball and making the most of every shot, but that should happen as the girls gain varsity experience.
“Smoky Valley’s one of the top teams in the league,” he said. If we keep improving, we’re excited about getting another chance at them at the end of the season.”
Hillsboro was to play host to Cheney in the second round of pool play on Tuesday, then will travel to Cheney on Saturday for the final round of the tournament.