ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The Hillsboro boys’ roller-coaster season chugged to a halt on a hill that was just too big to climb.
Hesston, ranked No. 1 in the state, ended the Trojans’ ride with a convincing 61-47 win Friday night in the semifinals of the Class 3A sub-state tournament at Southeast of Saline.
The Trojans weren’t outhustled, but at times they were outmuscled and outgunned and simply gave away too many turnovers to a team that didn’t need the help.
A couple of early Trojan miscues helped Hesston jump to an 11-4 lead midway through the first quarter. But a consecutive 2-pointer and 3-pointer by senior Nathan Fish pulled the Trojans to within two, 13-11. The quarter ended with Hesston leading 17-13.
Hillsboro pulled to within one point, 21-20, on a bucket by Ross Duerksen with 3:41 left before halftime. But Hesston scored the last two baskets in the period to take a 25-20 lead at intermission.
The third quarter proved to be decisive. It began with Hillsboro turning over the ball on their first three possessions to help fuel a 6-2 mini-run for the Swathers.
A bucket by Grant Brubacher with 3:16 to go pulled the Trojans to within five points at 31-26. But over the last two and a half minutes of the period, the Swathers scored eight unanswered points, including a dagger-in-the heart 3-pointer by John Dreier at the buzzer to take a 39-26 lead into the final quarter.
Brubacher retaliated with a 3-pointer to start the final quarter, but the Swathers successfully defended their lead at the free-throw line, hitting 18 of 26 free throws over the last six and a half minutes of the game.
“I thought we played really hard and gave it a good effort,” coach Darrel Knoll said. “We had a hard time executing the way the game was called. But Hesston was just more physical than we are and they’re just a good team. We’d have to play really well to beat them.”
Brubacher ended his stellar HHS career with a team-high 17 points. Classmates Fish added nine, Jeremy Loewen six and Michael Hagen two. Fellow senior Garrett Call contributed two rebounds in limited minutes.
Three Swathers scored in double figures, led by Dreier and Brad Gattis with 13 points and Brett Larson with 11.
With the loss, the Trojans concluded a season of highs and lows with a 13-9 mark.
The team struggled early in the season, found its stride midway through with big wins over Thomas Moore Prep, Wichita Collegiate and Halstead, then finished the regular season by losing three of its last four, including disheartening setbacks at Ellinwood and Smoky Valley.
“The only thing that’s disappointing to me about this season wasn’t that we got beat by Hesston here at the end,” Knoll said. “It would have taken a real game to beat them. But it was the fact that we underachieved against Sterling (early in the season), Ellinwood and Smoky Valley.
“Had we won even two out of three of those games, we would have ended up on the other side of the (sub-state) bracket, had a good chance of beating Riley County and still been playing for the championship.”
“On the positive side, we did beat Collegiate and TMP,” he said. “Those were big wins for us and I had some guys who had some really big performances at times during the year.”
Knoll will lose his five seniors, but he already has an eye on next year.
“I do have some guys who like basketball coming back, and if we can get them to commit to developing their game in the off season, I think we can get ourselves back to where we need to be next year,” he said.
HHS 49, Rock Creek 37
Hillsboro survived a third-quarter funk to beat Rock Creek on the Mustangs’ home court, 49-37, in the first round of sub-state play Wednesday.
The fifth-seeded Trojans built a 30-17 halftime lead over their fourth-seeded opponents, but managed only two points in the third quarter on 1-of-10 shooting from the floor.
Rock Creek (12-9), meanwhile, put together an 11-0 run to pull within four points, 32-28, as the quarter ended.
“It didn’t seem that we were playing the solid defense we were earlier,” coach Darrel Knoll said. “Offensively, we didn’t move and ended up missing a lot of shots in the paint. We kind of got tight and didn’t shoot like we could.”
The Trojans rediscovered their game in the final quarter and regained control of the game with a 17-9 advantage down the stretch.
A strong start carried the Trojans to a 17-9 lead after one quarter.
“I thought we got out and ran on them pretty well, we took care of the boards, and did quite a few good things,” Knoll said. “Offensively we penetrated, we moved the ball well, we got good shots.”
The two teams battled evenly in the second quarter, but the Trojans got a momentum boost in the final seconds.
After the defense forced a turnover with four seconds left, Jeremy Loewen threw the ball to Phillip Terrell from deep in the backcourt. Terrell then passed to Layne Frick, who laid the ball in the basket as the buzzer sounded.
Knoll commended Terrell’s play off the bench. The junior scored four points and contributed two steals and three rebounds.
“He really gave us a boost, especially in a time when we seemed to be struggling,” Knoll said. “It seemed to be his kind of game. With their personnel and the way he plays, it was a great matchup for him.”
Grant Brubacher led the Trojans with 16 points and Tyler Weinbrenner added 12 on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting night from the floor, including a 3-pointer.