They didn’t win the state championship they had set their hearts on, but the Hillsboro girls proved once more that they are champions of resilience and character.
With disappointment still lingering after a loss in the semifinals the previous night, the Trojans came back to defeat Russell, 59-44, for third place at the Class 3A state tournament in Hutchinson.
This is the third straight year the Trojans have come back less than 16 hours after a heartbreaking defeat to end their season with an impressive victory in the consolation matchup.
“It’s a big accomplishment,” coach Nathan Hiebert said. “It’s not what they wanted, but I’m proud how they came out really focused early. They didn’t want to leave with a loss.”
For point guard Danae Bina, Saturday’s win was part redemption and part determination after struggling the previous night with shooting and turnovers. Against Russell, the junior scored 21 points, distributed three assists and didn’t turn over the ball once.
“She did a really good job,” Hiebert said. “She doesn’t like to lose. It was tough last night, but once again it just shows the character of our girls.”
Saturday’s game began eerily similar to Friday’s. The Trojans jumped to a 6-0 start only to see the Broncos rally behind a hot shooter—in this case Madison Beagley—to jump back into contention for most of the first half.
Hillsboro led 11-7 after one quarter, but with Beagley scoring five points in the first quarter and four more in the first 1:30 of the second one, the Broncos pulled into a 13-13 tie when Janna Schulte scored in the lane at the 5:37 mark.
That’s where the similarity ended. Bina responded with a three-point basket from the top of the key to give the Trojans a lead they would never relinquish. Hillsboro went on to finish the quarter with a 20-9 surge capped by an 8-0 run in the final 1:37.
The Trojans seemed in control by halftime with a 33-22 lead—despite 17 points from Beagley.
Hillsboro’s defensive adjustments—particularly the effort of senior Tena Loewen—limited Beagley to only three points in the second half.
Even though the Trojans managed only two points over the first 6:11 of the third period, Russell could only close the gap to 35-28.
A free throw from Bina with 1:49 left sparked an 8-2 Hillsboro run to the end the quarter. Loewen capped the run with a traditional three-point play with 5.4 seconds remaining, giving the Trojans a 44-32 cushion as the quarter ended.
If there was any doubt which team was in control, Bina and the Trojans quickly settled the issue in the final quarter. Bina tossed in eight points over a three-minute stretch, helping her team to a 54-39 lead with 4:21 to play.
Hiebert cleared his bench with 27 seconds left as his team formalized the victory.
To complement Bina’s performance, Loewen finished her Trojan basketball career with 16 points and eight rebounds. Senior Maci Schlehuber added nine points, including a pair of three-pointers, and junior Addie Lackey contributed eight points and a team-high six assists.
With the win, Hillsboro completed a 23-3 season—the best yet in Hiebert’s six years at the helm. But coach and players will remember it with mixed feelings.
“I talked to people this week who would be really excited just to make it here,” Hiebert said of the state tournament. “The girls had such high expectations to get to that championship game and get another championship. Getting third sometimes seems like a disappointment.
“But I hope the girls realize that winning a state title is rare. If you look at our school history, it just doesn’t happen often. There’s not even a lot of thirds up there.
“I’m really proud of how our girls came together and did some really, really good things.”
Burlington 55, Hillsboro 45
Class 3A semifinals, Friday
Like their first-round game, the Hillsboro girls found themselves in a hole after three quarters of their semifinal game.
This time the Trojans couldn’t dig themselves out of it.
For the second year in a row, Burlington ended Hillsboro’s dream of a state championship. This time it was a 10-point loss to a team that was the undefeated top seed and eventually claimed the tournament championship.
“The same thing happened last year—they got what they wanted on their offense,” coach Nathan Hiebert said about Friday’s loss. “Defensively, I was a little disappointed.”
The Trojan got off to a 6-0 start on two free throws and a basket by Tena Loewen and a basket in the paint by Danae Bina. But Burlington stepped up from there, thanks in large part to the three-point shooting of Madison Stewart.
Haley Gilman scored the Wildcats’ first basket at the 5:19 mark, then Stewart hit two threes in a span of about 1:15 to fuel a 10-0 run. It ended when Loewen hit a 12-foot basket with 1:36 left in the first quarter.
Burlington, which led 12-9 after one quarter, was protecting a 14-12 lead in the second stanza when Stewart lit it up again from long range with a three-pointer on either side of a two-point basket by Breanna Bluma to put the Wildcats on top 22-14 with 3:45 left in the half.
A two-pointer by Stewart with two seconds left in the half gave Burlington a 28-21 lead at intermission. Stewart scored 16 of her 18 points in the first half.
“We knew she was their best shooter,” Hiebert said about Stewart. “We just gave her too much space. She’s great with her feet, she has a quick release, easy movements—we just gave her too many opportunities.”
Hillsboro all but shut down Stewart in the second, but both teams struggled for points early in the third period.
When Lackey drilled a three-pointer from the wing at the 3:02 mark, Hillsboro was within five at 32-27. A surge by Burlington pushed the lead to 39-29, but a traditional three-point play by Bina cut the margin to 39-32 at the end of the quarter.
Trailing 44-35 in the final quarter, Hillsboro launched what proved to be its final charge when Lackey hit a basket in the paint with 5:29 to go. She added a second one moments later, and Tena Loewen hit a pair of free throws to pull the Trojans to within three points—once at 44-41 with 3:45 left, then at 46-43 when Lackey scored once more in the lane with 2:29 to play.
“There in the fourth quarter we finally ran our offense the way we’re supposed to, getting some back cuts, some slip cuts,” Hiebert said. “It took us almost three quarters to see that. I was disappointed we didn’t come out and do it earlier.”
Burlington didn’t score another field goal the rest of the game, but made nine of 10 free throws down the stretch to secure the win with a 9-2 run.
Lackey finished as the Trojans’ top scorer with 19 points and Loewen chipped in 13. For Burlington, Bluma and Sarah Pearson each added 13 to Stewart’s 18.
As a team, Hillsboro actually outshot Burlington from the field, 44 percent (15-34) to 42 percent (17-40).
Hillsboro 55, Holcomb 45
Class 3A quarterfinals, Wednesday
Standing on the precipice of a first-round exit from the state tournament, Hillsboro simply refused to let its season end. A 23-12 fourth-quarter advantage, thanks to outstanding free-throw shooting, carried the Trojans to their win over Holcomb.
“If you want to be successful, you’ve got to finish ballgames, and I thought we did an excellent job once we got that lead,” coach Nathan Hiebert said. “Our girls weren’t giving it up. I was proud of that.”
Hillsboro trailed for most of the game. Maci Schlehuber hit the first basket on a layup off the tipoff. But Holcomb’s long-range shooting—three three-point baskets in the first quarter and two more in the second quarter—lifted the Longhorns to a 16-12 lead after one quarter and a 24-22 lead at intermission.
“Defensively, we broke down a little more than what I’d like,” Hiebert said about the first half. “They had a lot of penetration I didn’t want to have happen. For some of the threes they hit, we were digging down in the post and the (Holcomb) girls were just spotting up.”
Schlehuber scored in the first minute of the third quarter to tie the game, but Holcomb scored the next seven points, capped by a three-pointer from the wing from Kylee Amos at the 5:33 mark.
For the rest of the quarter, the Trojans limited the Longhorns to two free throws.
Meanwhile, Maddi Duerksen and Alex Ratzlaff came off the bench to hit a couple of big shots and Danae Bina added a fast-break layup with 43 seconds left in the period to enable the Trojans to cut the lead to 33-30 as the quarter ended.
Hiebert said his team was bent on winning the final quarter.
“They were talking that (Holcomb) won the first quarter, we won the second, they won the third and the girls in the huddle said, ‘This one’s ours,’” he said.
Senior Tena Loewen, who struggled somewhat in the first half, stepped up big time down the stretch for Hillsboro by cashing in 10 of 10 free throws in the final period.
Loewen hit the first two 47 seconds into the quarter, Bina added a traditional three-point play and Addie Lackey hit a huge three-point shot from the corner at the 5:30 mark to propel the Trojans from a three-point deficit into a 38-33 lead—with momentum clearly swinging their direction.
As a team, Hillsboro made 14 of 16 free throws during the final quarter to build its largest lead of the night as the game ended. Ironically, the Trojans hadn’t shot a single free throw through the first three quarters.
Meanwhile, the defense forced three turnovers and limited the Longhorns to 4-for-9 shooting down the home stretch.
Loewen led Hillsboro with 14 points and pulled down a game-high nine rebounds. Lackey was right behind with 13 points and contributed four assists. Bina, hindered in the first half by fouls, added 10 points with three assists.
As a team, Hillsboro shot 50 percent from the floor (19-38) while Holcomb shot 40.5 percent (15-37), including seven of 17 three-point shots.
Guards Kaitlyn Pfeifer and Taylor Deniston tied Loewen for game scoring honors with 14 points each, including a combined 6-for-13 shooting from three-point land.
Holcomb, the No. 5 seed, ended its season at 19-5.