ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Dionne Jost picked the perfect occasion to play the game of her life.
The 5-5 senior, who has earned her living playing defense this season, contributed 14 points to an incredible team performance that carried the Hillsboro Trojans to a 62-50 win over Hesston Saturday night.
The win avenged a disappointing 13-point loss to the Swathers in the regular-season finale only nine days earlier, gave the Trojans the sub-state championship, and earned them a berth in the Class 3A state tournament in Hutchinson this week.
“It’s a dream come true, but it’s only half over,” Jost said of the win.
She came into the contest averaging 1.7 points and 22 percent shooting from the floor. Eight of her 14 points on this magical night came in the fourth quarter, when fifth-ranked Hillsboro pulled away from the fourth-ranked Swathers.
“My goal for the year was to score over six and I did that tonight,” a beaming Jost said. “Usually, I shoot and think, ‘Oh, I hope it goes in.’ Tonight they just went in.”
Surprising as it was, Jost’s performance only exemplified what was easily the best all-round team performance of the season for the 20-2 Trojans.
“We talked all week long that if we’re going to beat Hesston, it has to be a team effort,” coach Becky Carlson said. “It can’t be five starters. It has to be the team.”
Carlson’s bench scored only 13 points, but their hustling defense and solid ball-handling kept the Trojans in a position to win.
“Everybody who went out there tonight knew who they were supposed to guard and did a great job,” Carlson said. “The bench was awesome.”
Hesston was formidable in the early going. Hillsboro jumped to a 5-2 lead on a basket by Angela Herzet on an inbounds pass from Jill Hein, and then Hein’s 3-pointer a minute later.
But Hesston took advantage of three Trojan turnovers and put together a 10-2 run over the next four minutes to take a 12-7 lead. A pair of free throws by the Swathers’ Kara Bartell with 8.4 seconds on the clock gave Hesston a 14-11 advantage at the first break.
After Hesston missed three consecutive free throws to start the second quarter, Hillsboro put together an 11-3 run to take a 24-17 lead. Andrea Peachey capped the rally with a steal and a bucket with 2:40 to play. The junior reserve contributed five of her seven points during the surge.
Six free throws by the Swathers cut the Trojan lead to 24-23 at intermission.
Hillsboro committed seven turnovers in the early minutes of the third quarter, enabling Hesston to take a 32-29 lead with 2:20 left in the period.
Amber Hefley, Peachey and Julie Hett each scored buckets that enabled Hillsboro to slip back into the lead, 35-34, as the quarter ended.
The fourth quarter started as a dogfight, with both teams battling for the lead. Hillsboro finally took it for good, 43-42, on Hein’s 10-footer from the baseline with 4:37 to play.
With the help of some spotty free-throw shooting by Hesston, Hillsboro slowly pulled away.
The Trojans’ Herzert, who had struggled at the line the previous two games, countered with a sterling 8-for-8 performance down the stretch.
“The good thing about Angela is, she’s determined,” Carlson said. “She knew she didn’t play very well (the past few games). She just got taken out of the game. But tonight she just wasn’t going to. She was ready to go all week long.”
Herzet finished with a game-high 17 points. She also contributed big-time on defense, working with Sara Thiessen to hold Hesston’s Amber Young to only four points. Young had burned the Trojans for 15 points in their previous meeting.
Carlson said her team’s performance on both ends of the court was across-the-board better in the rematch.
“We didn’t show them a very good game the other night,” Carlson said. “We laid back. But tonight, from the minute we started that game, you could tell we were going to go out and get it.”
Hein finished with nine points and Hett eight. Shannon Kroeker managed only one point-almost nine points below her average-but she contributed solid ball handling and a team-high eight rebounds.
The story of the game, though, was Jost, who had spent her career toiling beneath the radar of public attention, but soared with the stars on this night.
“She just stepped up,” Carlson said. “Always, she’s a defensive wizard. But tonight she just took it right at them. She had the confidence to do it.”
HHS 48, Rock Creek 38
On a night when the offense was off, the defense was decisive, carrying the Hillsboro girls to a 48-38 win over Rock Creek in the semifinals of the Class 3A sub-state tournament Thursday at Southeast of Saline.
Shooting a frigid 24.6 percent from the field, the Trojans survived on the strength of their full-court pressure defense, which effectively exploited the Mustang’s weakness in ball-handling.
“We definitely won with our defense,” coach Becky Carlson said.
Offensively, the Trojans missed from both short and long range, and regardless if they were guarded or open. They missed a dozen shots inside of five feet and were 2-of-14 from behind the arc.
“We had great shots, but we just missed them,” Carlson said.
She said she didn’t know if their sub-par shooting was a consequence of losing last week to Hesston, being off a full week after receiving a first-round bye, or simply feeling the jitters of their first sub-state game.
“All these other teams have had a game (in sub-state) and we hadn’t yet,” she said. “We’ve got some kids who are playing a big role for us that didn’t play a lot last year.
“Taking all of that into account, I thought we did OK,” she said.
Rock Creek, on the strength of two 3-pointers, led 8-6 after the first quarter.
Hillsboro, fueled by turnovers off its defense, rallied in the second quarter to take an 18-12 lead. Shannon Kroeker scored seven of her team-high 15 points, including five in the last 34 seconds.
The Trojans started the third quarter with four straight misses deep in the paint before Dionne Jost scored with 6:23 on the clock.
The Mustangs, meanwhile, got five points from Windy Reeves to narrow the Trojan lead to 27-23 by quarter’s end.
Hillsboro increased the margin to 10 points, 34-24, with a 7-1 run to start the final quarter. Amber Hefley capped the surge with her second 3-pointer of the game, this one with 5:13 to play.
The Mustangs never seriously challenged after that, despite getting three more 3-pointers down the stretch. Reeves was a thorn in the side of the Trojans all night, finishing with a game-high 17 points, including four 3-pointers.
Hillsboro spent the last minute and a half of the game at the free-throw line, connecting six times in 11 attempts.
“It seemed like every time we started to make a run, we got a foul called on us, or whatever,” Carlson said. “I’m just glad to win this one.”