Narrow Escape!

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Hillsboro was up and down all night against archrival Collegiate last Tuesday night, but when the dust cleared, the Trojans were the ones who finished on top, 61-59.



The outcome of this battle wasn’t determined, literally, until the final second. Spartan guard Chris Preboth dribbled through the Trojan defense with time running out but then missed not one but two shots low in the paint as the final buzzer sounded.



“We were fortunate to win,” Hillsboro coach Darrel Knoll said afterward.



In the early going, though, it appeared the the Spartans would be fortunate not to be blown out by the Trojans. Led by the dominate play of senior Adam Woods, who scored eight points as a force underneath, Hillsboro went up 10-3 with 4:04 to play.



But then the tables turned dramatically.



Collegiate coach Mitch Fiegel sent in a new platoon of players and the Spartans launched what turned out to be an 18-1 run that stretched into the opening seconds of the second quarter.



Woods’ basket at the 7:43 mark of the second quarter finally broke the field-goal drought for Hillsboro. But Collegiate’s Ron Horton and Preboth came back with baskets of their own to give the Spartans their biggest lead of the night, 25-13, with 6:12 on the clock.



“We just weren’t defending,” Knoll said of Collegiate’s run. “It was like we ran out of gas four minutes into the game. It didn’t matter who I put in. We were getting beat off the dribble, we were turning our heads, people were cutting right by us for layups, we weren’t rebounding.



“Offensively, we’d make one pass and someone would try to drive and shoot. We weren’t getting any movement. It was a pathetic display of basketball from the middle of the first quarter to about the last minute-and-a-half of the second quarter.”



A Knoll timeout at the 6:08 mark seemed to stop the bleeding. Ross Duerksen started the Trojans’ battle back into contention with a traditional three-point play. Dustin Jost’s 3-pointer, with 19 seconds left in the quarter, closed the gap to six points, 37-31, at intermission.



“The only thing I can say that was good about the first half was the first opening run, and the fact that we were able to close (the deficit) to six at half time,” Knoll said. “That was big.”



The Trojans returned to early-game form in the third quarter. Six players stepped up with points for Hillsboro, none bigger than than Tyler Weinbrenner. The 5-9 guard sandwiched a Jost 3-pointer with two of his own that vaulted the Trojans from a 45-43 deficit at the 3:42 mark into a 52-47 lead with 2:08 to go. The quarter ended with Hillsboro ahead, 54-51.



“The third quarter was great,” Knoll said. “We played better defense, got better looks at the basket, shot the ball well because we moved, and we played together. It wasn’t just one pass and shoot.”



The Trojans pushed their lead to 58-51 early in the fourth quarter on a free throw by Duerksen and a big 3-pointer by Andy Brubacher from the top of the key.



But a couple of missed layups and turnovers opened the door once more for Collegiate, who closed the gap to 58-55 with 3:50 to play.



Hillsboro scored one more basket before shifting into what appeared to be a stall game.



But it wasn’t supposed to be.



“The idea was not to run the clock out with four minutes left,” Knoll said. “The idea was to break them down and get an easy shot. But we never created enough to get an easy shot. The one time we did, instead of shooting a layup, we fumbled it out of bounds.”



Collegiate took advantage of the lapse, with Preboth scoring on a drive to the bucket that pulled Collegiate to within three points, 60-57, with 1:38 to play.



Hillsboro then turned the ball over on the inbounds pass, but Collegiate’s Tim Rheem missed a shot that would have pulled the Spartans to within one. Preboth fouled Frick on the rebound with 55.8 seconds left, but the Trojan senior missed the front end of his one-and-one.



Horton appeared to cash in on the opportunity and tie the game when he nailed a basket from long range. But the official ruled Horton’s toe was on the 3-point line, and so the Trojans still led by one, 60-59.



After Hillsboro called a time out with 19.5 second left, Duerksen took the inbounds pass and was fouled with 18.2 seconds left. The senior hit one of two charities, setting up Preboth for his final two misses at the buzzer.



“In the fourth quarter we kind of got away from our movement again, and we let them back in it a little bit,” Knoll said. “Maybe we’ll start to see that we’ve got to play four solid quarters of defense and do things the way I want them done. When we did that in the third quarter, we were very good.



“If we can do that for an entire game, we will be one of the teams that has a chance at the end of the season,” Knoll added. “But if we keep playing half a game, like we are right now, we’re going to have a hard time winning it.”



Knoll complimented the Spartans on their spirited play.



“I’m sure Collegiate was really hungry tonight,” he said. “They probably played as hard as they’ve played all year. I think the big difference in the first half was that they wanted it more than we did.”



With the big win, the Trojans enter the Christmas holiday with an unblemished 6-0 record.



“I think we’re definitely improving,” Knoll said. “We’re doing a lot of things well.”



But his team has room to improve.



“I think the guys are starting to see some of the things I’m talking about,” Knoll said. “Now we’ve got a little break, and we can work on some of them.”



Hillsboro will resume competition Jan. 4 at Halstead.

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