ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Any win over archrival Wichita Collegiate is sweet. But Friday night’s 43-41 win on Grant Brubacher’s driving jumper at the buzzer was as big and sweet as Sugar Mountain.
It avenged a 13-point loss to the Spartans right before Christmas break. More important, it marked the fourth straight game that the Trojans, who struggled almost half a season to find themselves, played to their potential with a strong, focused performance.
“It was a great confidence-builder for us,” coach Darrel Knoll said. “It’s great to get a win like this because every win is going to be big because every game will be tough.”
This one was tough from the start. Hillsboro built an 8-2 lead when Michael Hagen laid the ball in on a great feed from Adam Woods with 5:18 to play. It proved to be the biggest lead either team managed all night.
The Spartans came back to take an 8-9 lead on a 3-pointer by Joe Rheem and two lay-ins by Marcus Tater. At quarter’s end, the score was knotted at 12.
And so it went. In the third quarter, the Spartans twice managed a four-point lead. But Hillsboro battled back each time and finally edged ahead, 31-30, at quarter’s end when Ross Duerksen hit a 12-footer with two seconds to go.
The Spartans took another four-point lead, 39-35, in the final quarter on two driving layups by Brett Sweeney. With only three minutes left, the Trojans could have wilted.
But on Hillsboro’s next possession, Brubacher looped beneath the Spartans’ zone defense and, when he resurfaced wide open in the far left corner, the senior caught a cross-court pass from Jeremy Loewen and nailed a 3-pointer to cut the lead to one.
A minute and a half later, Loewen buried a shot from the same spot and the Trojans grabbed a 41-39 lead with the Hillsboro crowd roaring its approval.
“Those two plays were just tenaciously big,” Knoll said. “They gave us some momentum to finish the game.”
The Trojans almost made the defensive stop on the next possession by deflecting a pass in the Collegiate lane, but Peter Onderick grabbed the ball and buried the basket to tie the game at 41 with 37.4 seconds left.
After a Trojan timeout with 26.6 seconds to play, Hillsboro worked for a last shot. Brubacher got the ball with about five seconds left, paused a moment, then drove the left side of the lane, sliced between two defenders and banked the ball cleanly off the backboard and into the basket.
The Trojan student section rushed the floor as the buzzer sounded, but officials ruled the Spartans had called a timeout before the buzzer and put a second back on the clock.
With HHS students chanting, “We won, we won,” Rheem, the Spartans’ football quarterback, heaved the ball three-fourth’s the length of the court. The pass was tipped and a desperate heave toward the basket fell harmlessly away and the Trojans fans had the win they wanted so badly.
“Collegiate is a great rivalry and they’re a great team,” Knoll said. “To beat them, there’s nothing better than that.
“We executed the game plan almost perfectly all night,” he said. “We worked for good looks at the basket, we got after it on defense, took care of the boards pretty well, and made them take tough shots all night. I just couldn’t be more pleased with the execution and the way the guys responded to every situation.
“The great thing was there was a lot of excitement and enthusiasm in the gym,” Knoll said. “I think this will get some excitement into not only our team, but the fans. And it will give us some momentum because we have some tough games ahead.”
Brubacher finished with 12 points and Loewen seven-all in the second half-to head the list of 10 Trojans who scored.
“Everybody who came in gave us some good minutes,” Knoll said. “Some of them played a lot, some of them didn’t play so much. But I told them we should all be proud of being a part of this team.”
HHS 57, Haven 33
Coming off a week without a game, Hillsboro stepped right into its Trojan Classic championship form and beat Haven handily, 57-33, Tuesday night at home.
“I think winning the tournament got some guys playing harder,” coach Darrel Knoll said afterward. “We’ve had some enthusiasm on our team when we’ve practiced and it’s starting to show a little bit.”
Aggressive team defense and productive shooting from Grant Brubacher were keys from the very start, as the Trojans outscored the Wildcats 12-4 in the first quarter. Brubacher scored 11 of Hillsboro’s points, including three 3-pointers.
In the second quarter, the senior guard got scoring help from Layne Frick, Jeremy Loewen, Nathan Fish, Garrett Call and Ross Duerksen as the Trojans enlarged their lead to 28-13. The decisive stretch came from 5:40 left to the 2:03 mark, when Hillsboro put together a 12-0 run.
The Trojans began the third quarter with an 11-2 run to put the game out of reach. Brubacher had five of the points and Loewen six.
Six Trojans scored in the final frame to put the finishing touches on the Wildcats.
Brubacher led HHS with a game-high 22 points. Loewen added 11.
Looking to Brubacher was part of the Trojans’ offensive strategy, Knoll said.
“We’ve been talking (in practice) how we want to make sure that we’re working for each other,” Knoll said. “We want Grant to get as many looks as anybody else; he’s one of the better players around. It doesn’t make sense that he’s shooting the ball less than some of the other guys on the team.”
Knoll was pleased with his team’s effort and discipline.
“I thought the guys played really hard and, for the most part, played good defense and took care of the boards,” he said. “We had very few breakdowns and I was very pleased with what we did.
“Offensively, we’re getting much more disciplined about not taking the first look we get, working more for inside shots first, then getting wide-open outside shots-which improves shooting percentages.”
The Trojans shot a season-high 59.5 percent from the field, including 5-of-11 from behind the arc.
Coming-The win over state-ranked Collegiate was a big first step through what must be toughest scheduling stretch in Class 3A. On Tuesday, the Trojans battled No. 1 Halstead. On Friday, they meet No. 2 Hesston on the road. The following Tuesday the Trojans meet Sterling, who defeated Hillsboro in overtime last month.
Results of the Halstead game should be available today on the Free Line (947-3363) and the Free Press Web site (old.hillsborofreepress.com).