ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The saying that hard work creates its own luck was never more true thanduring the championship game of the Southeast of Saline Invitational Tournament Friday night.
With the scored tied and only seconds remaining, a potentially game-winning shot by Salina South’s Erica Dechant clanked hard off the back of the rim. Hillsboro’s Angela Herzet grabbed the rebound and passed to Shannon Kroeker.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, Jill Hein scooped up a loose ball near midcourt with three seconds left, streaked down the floor and scored a layup at the buzzer for a dramatic 40-38 championship win over the Class 5A Cougars.
“It looked like Shannon had it, so I just started running to the basket where she would shoot the layup or whatever,” Hein said. “Then the ball popped out as I went past, so I just grabbed it and went for the layup.”
The “lucky break” gave the Trojans their first title in two appearances at the Southeast tournament. In truth, it was hard work and persistence that won the championship.
“The focus was definitely here, and these girls were determined they were going to win,” coach Becky Carlson said after game. “There was not a doubt in their mind that they were going to win tonight.”
The strong contingent of Hillsboro fans may not have been as confident after Salina South overcame a 13-6 Hillsboro lead after one quarter and established a seven-point advantage of its own with 34.6 seconds left in the third quarter.
But Angela Herzet nailed two free throws for HHS with 14.5 seconds left in the quarter and Kroeker stepped up with a 3-pointer 10 seconds into the fourth quarter to pull the Trojans to within two, 28-26.
Kroeker hit a second 3-pointer with 3:49 to play to put Hillsboro ahead 37-34. But Salina South came back once more on a basket and two free throws by Alyson Adams to take its last lead of the game, 38-37, with 3:10 to play.
After Julie Hett’s free throw tied the game at 38, Hillsboro got a break when Salina South coach Bruce Erickson called a timeout from the bench an instant before Dechant launched a successful 3-pointer, nullifying what would have been a huge score for the Cougars.
Instead, Salina South ran the clock down to 19.4 seconds before calling time out to plan for a final shot.
The rest of the story will remain a sweet memory not just for Hein, but also her teammates and coach.
“They had a goal and they didn’t give up-and I’m proud of them,” Carlson said.
Hein, Hett and Herzet were named to the all-tournament team and Herzet was named “Most Valuable Player.” But Hillsboro got help from a lot of people in this tournament.
Two of them, juniors Andrea Peachey and Jenna Jost, hadn’t seen a lot of varsity action prior to Christmas. But against Salina South they made some key defensive plays in the fourth quarter, and Jost’s seven-foot jumper in the lane gave Hillsboro a brief lead with 4:33 to play.
“It took all 12 of those girls-whether they all played or not-because they work so hard in practice and are so encouraging of each other,” Carlson said. “Whether they started the game or finished the game, or whether they went in at all, every one of them was focused and ready to go. That’s what it took.”
Semifinals vs. Southeast
Hillsboro’s second-half defense energized its offense and sparked the Trojans to a 46-26 win over the host team in Thursday’s semifinal game at the Southeast of Saline Invitational Tournament.
Hillsboro played well defensively from the start, allowing only 11 first-half points. But during the first two quarters, the Trojans had trouble scoring in their half-court offense except for shots in the paint.
Angela Herzet, Hillsboro’s 5-10 post, scored eight of Hillsboro’s 16 first-half point.
Only eight seconds into the third period, Shannon Kroeker scored in the paint on a feed from Jill Hein. Hillsboro’s press forced a turnover on the next possession, and Dionne Jost fed Julie Hett for another easy basket with only 54 seconds gone.
Suddenly, it was 20-11 and HHS had seized the momentum. They never turned it loose, outscoring the home team 14-5 by quarter’s end.
Hett, who has become Hillsboro’s clutch scorer and most consistent outside shooter in recent games, stepped up with eight points during that decisive quarter and finished with 12 for the game.
In the fourth quarter, the Trojans looked again for Herzet inside and the senior responded with six more points to give her a team-high 14.
“We were trying to get more shots in the paint because we were having trouble scoring from the outside-and we did,” coach Becky Carlson said. “We took great shots in the second half.”
Despite the offensive improvement in the second half, Hillsboro managed only 32.7 percent field goal shooting for the game and missed all six of their 3-point shots.
Carlson got some solid contributions from her bench. Amber Hefley, Andrea Peachey, Sara Thiessen, Jenna Jost and Robyn Penner combined for only 10 points but made some key plays defensively and on the boards.
Carlson said her team’s readiness to hustle on defense was the difference in the game.
“Before the game I told them, you’ve got to be more aggressive from the start,” she said. “I felt like we were.”
Hillsboro advanced to the semifinals with a 49-43 win over Ellsworth in the first round.
Coming-The Trojans battled Haven Tuesday in a showdown of MCAA division leaders. The two teams were 4-0 in their respective divisions and 11-1 overall.
The results of the girls’ and boys’ games game are available by calling the Free Line (947-3363) or checking the Free Press Web site (www. hillsborofreepress.com).
Hillsboro host Wichita Collegiate on Friday and then travel to Halstead the following Tuesday for key Mid Division games.