ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The Hillsboro Trojans may have been outsized and outmuscled on paper, but they outplayed Thomas Moore Prep on the floor to claim the Trojan Classic championship with a 49-47 win Saturday night in Brown Gymnasium.
Playing their best overall game of the season, Hillsboro withstood a late Monarch charge with a lot of heart, smarts and clutch free-throw shooting to beat last season’s Class 3A state tournament runnerup.
“Really, for the first time this year, I felt like we played together, passed the ball well, took good shots, just did a good job of execution the whole night,” said coach Darrel Knoll.
Both teams played up to the championship billing.
Hillsboro led briefly by three points early in the game, but after that neither team led by more than two points until Grant Brubacher hit a pair of free throws and Michael Hagen followed with a bucket in the paint to put the Trojans ahead by five, 24-19, with 3:16 to play in the second quarter.
But TMP came right back with a 6-0 run to take a 25-24 lead into the locker room at intermission.
TMP still led, 29-28, when Brubacher hit two driving buckets and Jeremy Loewen nailed a 3-pointer to put Hillsboro up by six points late in the third quarter.
TMP’s Ryan Hammerschmidt hit a field goal and Hillsboro’s Layne Frick hit two free throws to make the score 37-31 at the end of three quarters.
The Trojan enjoyed their biggest lead of the night when Hagen scored again to make the score 45-37 with 3:45 left in the game.
But TMP rallied again by pounding the ball inside to Matt Allen, their muscular 6-5 post, for two buckets. Brandon Schaffer added a 3-pointer to narrow the gap to one point, 45-44, with 1:06 to go.
Hillsboro ran the clock down until Brubacher was fouled with 20.8 seconds left. The senior leader hit both ends of a one-and-one to push the Trojan lead to three points.
With less than 10 seconds left, TMP’s James Leiker fired a 3-pointer that would have tied the game. The ball hit caromed off the rim and into the hands of Frick who was immediately fouled. The 6-3 junior calmly sank two free throws to put the game out of reach.
TMP’s Mike Diehl hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to narrow the gap to the final margin.
“I think the guys were really pumped to win tonight,” Knoll said. “We were the most focused to play a game that we’ve been all year. We didn’t get down on ourselves when we made a mistake. Nobody ever really got on each other for anything other than to encourage them.
“I’m thinking that will help us the rest of the year to pull together as a team and really be concerned about executing and winning games.”
Brubacher led the Trojan scoring with 17 points and Loewen pitched in 10, but Knoll had special praise for Hagen. The 6-4 senior came off the bench to score a career-high eight points, including six in the final quarter.
“Hagen was a big key tonight,” he said. “He really gave us some quality minutes. It just seemed that everybody who came in played a pretty solid ball game.”
“I thought it was a real learning experience for us tonight,” Knoll added. “The fact that we were able to hang on and win after they made a run at us was really great. I thought we showed a lot of character.”
Semifinals-When the game was on the line, Hillsboro performed at the line. The Trojans hit 14 of 18 free throws in the fourth quarter and nine in a row at the end to nail down a 49-40 win over Belleville in Friday night’s semifinal game.
It was Hillsboro’s first win over Belleville in three years, including a last-second, one-point loss in the state championship game in 1999.
For three quarters, the game was a series of Trojan surges and Buffalo counter-surges.
After Belleville’s Jeremy Thayer scored the first bucket of the game, Hillsboro came back with a 10-0 run.
Belleville then put together a 9-1 run of its own to tie the game at 11 in the early moments of the second quarter.
Grant Brubacher lit a second Trojan surge with three unanswered buckets, and Adam Woods and Tyler Weinbrenner combined for three free-throws to push Hillsboro to a 20-12 lead.
The Buffaloes came back once more with, thanks to seven more points from Thayer, to pull within one point at halftime, 22-21.
Two three-point plays by Thayer kept Belleville even at 27 midway through the fourth quarter. But Michael Hagen, Weinbrenner and Ross Duerksen scored buckets to give the Trojans a 33-28 lead heading into the final period.
Hillsboro spread the court in the fourth quarter, looking for an easy basket or a foul. Woods laid in Hillsboro’s one and only field goal of the quarter with 3:04 to play. The rest of the Trojan scoring came from the free-throw line as Belleville tried to get the ball back.
“I was really pleased that we went out to beat Belleville tonight,” coach Darrel Knoll said. “We talked a lot about not backing down if they played physical, and not letting them take control and play their type of ball game. I thought we did a pretty good job of that.
“From that standpoint, it was a big win because it’s been a few years since we’ve beaten them. It was good to get them back again.”
Thayer claimed scoring honors with 28 points, 16 in the first half.
“We had a little hard time matching up with him with Layne (Frick) in a little bit of foul trouble,” Knoll said. “We gave up some things defensively because we weren’t executing the way we needed to. But we are able to correct that at halftime. I really thought we played a solid defensive game in the second half.”
Brubacher finished with 15 points to lead the Trojan attack. Weinbrenner added 11 points, including seven of eight free throws.
Through three quarters, Hillsboro managed only eight free throws in 14 attempts and twice missed on the front end of a one-and-one opportunity.
The Trojans had advanced to the semifinals with a 63-37 opening-round win over Marion Monday.