ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
“Better late than never” was the most consistent theme in Hillsboro’s inconsistent play at this year’s Trojan Classic. But the good news was that when the Trojans showed up, they showed up big.
The Trojans rebounded from mediocre first-half play to beat Inman and Thomas More Prep in the first two rounds of the tournament, but in the title game against Smoky Valley, their late-game heroics were even more dramatic in a 51-40 win.
After Layne Frick hit a 2-pointer and 3-pointer in the last minute of the third quater to finally pull the Trojans even at 33-33, Andy Brubacher took command in the decisive final period.
The 5-10 junior guard gave the Trojans their first lead since the opening minute of the game by banking a 15-footer off the glass with 7:37 to play. By the final gun, Brubacher had racked up 11 of his team-high 13 points.
“I thought Andy hit his free throws, made good decisions on offense and played some great defense on (Smoky’s Keith) Ferguson,” coach Darrel Knoll said.
Brubacher wasn’t the only star to shine at the free-throw line. He and his mates knocked down 11 of 12 pressure-packed charities over the last 4:19 to nail down the win.
Knoll praised his team’s play down the stretch.
“Last night (against TMP), I thought we played to win in the fourth quarter, and I thought tonight again we played to win,” he said. “The guys made good decisions, we made our free throws-which allowed us to stop them so they couldn’t get a fast break going. I thought we really did everything right in the fourth quarter.”
The same could not be said about the Trojans’ first-half performance.
Adam Woods got the home team off to a solid start scoring the easy layup on a great pass.
But that’s where the Trojans’ offensive fire ended. Hillsboro could hardly buy a bucket after that. By the time the first quarter ended, the Vikings had posted a 15-8 lead.
The Trojans’ offensive woes continued through the second quarter, and the home team faced a 25-17 deficit by intermission.
“I thought the biggest problem in the first half is that we refused to execute offense,” Knoll said. “We’ve shot the ball so well this year that when things aren’t going well, all of a sudden nothing’s working because we’re not executing any offense.”
But Knoll was quick to credit the Vikings’ aggressive play.
“Smoky came out sky high,” he said. “In the first half, I thought they played harder-on offense and on defense. I thought they cut harder, they blocked out harder, and they hit the boards. We didn’t do that. I just said at halftime, ‘We can’t play passively. We’ve got to play strong.'”
The Trojans did just that, but with Smoky still battling, the results weren’t immediately evident. The Trojans were still trailing by seven, 29-22 with six minutes left in the third quarter when Tyler Peachey came off the bench to score two buckets in the paint, and Shawn Hughbanks followed with a third score on a feed from Frick to pull the Trojans to within one, 29-28, with 2:45 on the clock.
Smoky came back with two free throws and a field goal to push the lead back to five with 1:24 left, but Frick came back with his two huge scores in the final minute to pull Hillsboro even at quarter’s end.
“The second half, we executed some offense, we got some easy looks inside, and we started to make some of them,” Knoll said. “I thought Peachey came up big down in the block, Ross (Duerksen) had some great plays in there and we finally started penetrating. I just thought we executed our offense a ton better.”
Peachey was the only other Trojan in double figures with 11. As a team, the Trojans’ 38.1 field-goal percentage reflected their struggle, but shooting 16-of-20 from the line reflected their determination to win.
“Right now, I think we’re struggling a little bit with our shooting,” Knoll said. “Hopefully, that will pick up again as we get to the post-season. But the one good thing about that is we’re going to have to learn to start executing our offense better.”
HHS 57, TMP 53
Tyler Weinbrenner’s 10-foot jumper in the lane with 4.5 seconds lifted Hillsboro to a dramatic 57-53 win over Thomas More Prep-Marian in Friday’s semifinals.
With the Trojans trailing 53-52 and the final seconds ticking away, Layne Frick, on a set play following a timeout, fired an off-balance shot from long range that bounced off the rim. Teammate Ross Duerksen tipped the ball out to the 5-9 junior, who then nailed the game winner.
The Trojans secured the victory after TMP was assessed a technical for calling a timeout with none available. Weinbrenner sank one of two free throws, then, with 2.2 seconds remaining, Andy Brubacher took the inbound toss from Weinbrenner at halfcourt and streaked past his defender for a layup as time expired.
The Trojans began the game like gang busters, hitting five 3-pointers and playing effective defense to go up 24-14 at the end of the first quarter.
But the Trojans went bust in the second quarter as TMP pieced together a 16-2 run fueled by Trojan turnovers, fouls and misfires to take a 30-26 lead into intermission.
“It seemed like we got away from what we were doing in the first quarter,” coach Darrel Knoll said. “We came out in the second quarter, committed two fouls right away and committed three or four traveling (violations).
“It seemed like from there we lost our momentum, they gained it and we never got it back in the first half. I just thought our tenacity in the second quarter was not like it was in the first.”
Tyler Kippes, TMP’s 6-4 standout, started the second half with a dunk to push the Monarchs’ lead to six points, but both teams struggled to score over the next four minutes.
When Dustin Jost tipped the ball away from his man and drove for a layup to pull the Trojans to within two, 34-32, with 3:18 left in the third quarter, the momentum seemed to tip Hillsboro’s way. Brubacher’s three free throws with 3.2 on the clock gave Hillsboro it’s first lead of the second half, 40-39.
TMP’s strategy in the final quarter was clear: get the ball inside to Kippes. The senior scored all 14 of of the Monarchs’ point down the stretch and finished with a game-high 23.
“He was just so strong,” Knoll said of Kippes. “He kept backing us down like Charles Barkley in there. If they let him back down like that, I don’t know how you can defend him. Plus, he’s a really good player. He’s strong, physical, and we just had a hard time with that.”
While Kippes fueled the TMP offense, the Trojans responded with points from five players, including Shawn Hughbanks’ clutch 15-footer with 2:37 to play and then two free throws with 53.6 seconds left that put the Trojans on top, 52-51.
Adam Woods had a chance to pad the lead 13 seconds later when Kippes was called for pushing off, but the Trojan senior missed both free throws.
Following a TMP timeout, Kippes scored the Monarchs’ final bucket with 24.5 seconds left, which set up the final Trojan scoring sequence.
“We got enough done offensively to win, but still I think we were struggling a little bit shooting the ball,” Knoll said. “At least we made enough to win.”
Knoll liked his team’s gutsy effort down the stretch.
“I thought we played to win in the fourth quarter,” he said. “That’s what I was most pleased with. We didn’t back down when things weren’t going well for us.”
Weinbrenner finished as the Trojans’ leading scorer with 16. Brubacher added 11 and Hughbanks 10 for Hillsboro.
Coming-The 13-0 Trojans will take this week off as the girls’ team completes its tournament at Southeast of Saline.
Both Trojan teams return to MCAA action Jan. 29 with games at Haven.