ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Hillsboro played the late game on opening night at the Class 3A state tournament in Hutchinson Wednesday. Even so, midnight arrived about three and a half hours early for the Trojans’ Cinderella dream.
After a fairy-tale start for Hillsboro, Conway Springs brought the Trojans back to real-world ashes with a 45-29 thumping at the Hutchinson Sports Arena.
The magic lasted about four minutes for Hillsboro.
Floor leader Jill Hein, who had been inconsistent with her shot this season, looked to be on fire with two early 3-pointers.
Her gunnery mate, Shannon Kroeker, added five points with a 2-pointer and 3-pointer to give the Trojans an 11-4 lead with 4:15 to go in the opening period.
The Trojans looked like world-beaters.
No one heard the clock strike midnight-maybe the cheers of the sizeable Hillsboro crowd absorbed it-but after the four-minute mark, the Trojans were a different team.
Their turnovers increased, the rebounding disappeared and the shooting grew progressively worse.
“We started out pretty loose, and then they came back on us,” coach Becky Carlson said. “We got tense and our shots wouldn’t fall.”
By quarter’s end, the Cardinals had pulled to within one point, 11-10. By halftime, Hillsboro trailed 21-15.
The second half didn’t get any better for the Trojans.
Conway Springs started the third quarter with a 6-0 run before Hein, the only Trojan to manage a basket in the second quarter, nailed her third 3-pointer of the game with 3:59 on the clock to pull the Trojans back to a single-digit deficit, 27-18.
By quarter’s end, Hillsboro, despite struggling from the field, trailed only by seven, 30-23. Diehard Trojan fans knew Hillsboro could still pull out the game with a fourth-quarter recovery.
But those hopes came to a skidding Holt-Ashley Holt, that is. The Cardinals’ 6-1 post player, just a couple of weeks out of an ankle cast, took over the game, scoring 13 of her game-high 15 points in the fourth and final period.
“She’s a good basketball player,” Carlson said. “She’s 6-1 and she can jump. If we stayed behind her, she just shot over us. We tried to front her, but then we were too short on the back side to do anything with her.”
Angela Herzet scored Hillsboro’s last three points-the only ones she managed all night. Her bucket with 3:30 left made the score 44-29. By then, though, the outcome was clear.
The Cardinals played tough defense, but the Trojans’ appeared to lost their spark and suffered their worst offensive performance of the season.
Hot start included, Hillsboro made only five of 33 shots from inside the arc-a season low 15.2 percent. A respectable 6-of-15 from 3-point land raised the overall shooting percentage to 22.9 percent.
The Trojans had only four opportunities at the free-throw line, making one. Conway Springs had 18 chances and made 13.
The Cardinals, who shot 41 percent from the floor, established a 38-22 advantage on the boards and committed nine fewer turnovers.
Carlson credited Conway Springs for their quick and aggressive play, and said the Cardinals’ used their size and strength to gain an advantage on the boards.
“We had a heck of a time rebounding, but that’s how physical it was,” Carlson said. “A lot of times I thought we had position, but they were just more physical. The had some good athletes.”
Carlson said her team’s battle to reach the state tournament, including an emotionally and physically demanding win over Hesston in the sub-state finals, may have depleted her team’s reserve.
“It happened to us last year (at state) against Northern Heights and it happened again,” she said. “It’s hard-and I’m not making any excuses-just to get here. Some people win by 20, but for us it was so hard to get here.
“Conway Springs really played well tonight,” she added. “I don’t know that we played that bad. I think they just played good.”
It was a disappointing finish for the three Trojan seniors. Together, Herzet, Julie Hett and Dionne Jost scored three points-17 below their combined average-on 1-of-10 shooting.
The loss ended the Trojans’ season with a 20-3 record. It is the eighth time in 17 seasons that a Carlson team has registered at least 20 wins.
“These girls don’t have anything to be ashamed of,” she said. “They had a good season.”
Conway Springs went on to win the state title with wins over Norton Community and Southwestern Heights.
Conway Springs 45, HHS 29
March 7 at Hutch (First round, state tournament)
C. Springs (21-3) 10 11 9 15-45
Hillsboro (20-3) 11 4 8 6-29
CONWAY SPRINGS: Ashley Ast 0-1 4-5 6, Kelli Koester 2-6 0-1 4, Melissa Crowell 2-6 0-0 4, Carey Sieler 1-4 1-1 3, Chelsea Schneck 1-3 0-0 2, Jenny Crowell 0-0 1-1 1, Robyn Pauly 1-1 0-0 2, Ashley Holt 5-7 5-7 15, Thresia Busch 0-4 2-3 2, Amber Harrington 3-7 0-1 6. Totals: 16-39 13-18 45.
HILLSBORO: Dionne Jost 0-4 0-0 0, Angela Herzet 1-5 1-2 3, Julie Hett 0-2 0-0 0, Holly Lindsay 0-1 0-0 0, Jenna Jost 0-0 0-0 0, Shannon Kroeker 4-14 0-2 10, Andrea Peachey 0-2 0-0 0, Amber Hefley 1-6 0-0 3, Jill Hein 5-11 0-0 13, Sara Thiessen 0-1 0-0 0, Shelby Estelle 0-2 0-0 0. Totals: 11-51 1-4 29.
Halftime: Conway Springs 21, Hillsboro 15. Three-point shooting: Conway Springs 0-5 (M. Crowell 0-3, Koester 0-1, Schneck 0-1), Hillsboro 6-16 (D. Jost 0-1, Kroeker 2-4, Hefley 1-3, Hein 3-7). Assists: Conway Springs 8, Hillsboro 8 (Herzet 2, Kroeker 2, Peachey 1, Hefley 1, Hein 2). Offensive rebounds: Hillsboro 11 (D. Jost 2, Herzet 1, J. Jost 1, Kroeker 2, Peachey 1, Hefley 1). Defensive rebounds: Hillsboro 14 (Herzet 5, Hett 6, Kroeker 2, Peachey 1, Hefley 1). Total rebounds: Conway Springs 38, Hillsboro 22. Steals: Hillsboro 8 (Hett 2, J. Jost 1, Kroeker 1, Hefley 1 Hein 3). Turnovers: Conway Springs 11, Hillsboro 15 (Herzet 4, Hett 3, Kroeker 4, Peachey 1, Hefley 1, Hein 2). Total fouls: Conway Springs 9, Hillsboro 17. Fouled out: None.