ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The Hesston Swathers found a way to score late in the game and pulled away from the Hillsboro Trojans, 50-31, Friday night in Brown Gymnasium.
But this battle of division leaders and traditional rivals was closer than the final score would indicate. Poor shooting by both teams was exacerbated by tenacious defense, keeping the outcome in question until the final minutes.
The Trojans led after one quarter, 8-6, but by halftime the Swathers had edged ahead, 20-14, primarily on the strength of free-throw opportunities. Hesston shot nine charities in the second quarter and made six while the Trojans missed all four of their opportunities.
Both teams were struggling from the field in the first half, the Trojans shooting 32 percent while the Swathers managing only 25 percent.
Those percentages worsened in the third quarter. Hillsboro connected on only three of 15 shots-two of them 3-pointers-while Hesston managed only two baskets in 12 attempts.
But the Swathers maintained their six-point lead by making all four of their free throws and kept the Trojans off the line.
Hesston pushed its lead to 11 points in the early minutes of the final period, but Shannon Kroeker’s 3-pointer closed the gap to eight, 35-27 with 5:57 to go.
But from that point on, the Trojans would manage only two free throws by Robyn Penner until Kroeker scored another basket with three seconds left in the game.
By then, the Swathers had scored 15 points, including several fast-break buckets off steals, to put the game well out of reach.
Hillsboro coach Becky Carlson said she was disappointed in the outcome-but not as much as one might think, given the 19-point spread.
“It was not how I wanted the game to come out, but the good thing is that the opportunity is there for us to beat them,” she said afterward. “They’re not out of our league by any means. We’re not going to get discouraged.”
Hillsboro finished with 25.5 percent shooting from the field while Hesston’s scoring spurt at the end raised their percentage to 30.4. The Trojans committed 19 turnovers.
Kroeker was the only Trojan in double figures with 11 points.
Despite some shortcomings, Carlson said she got what she wanted most from her team: intensity and execution.
“The effort was there,” she said. “I cannot complain about that at all. I wish I could, but I can’t. The shots were there, we just couldn’t get them to fall.”
The best scenario coming from this game may be that the Trojans lost to Hesston a year ago by double digits late in the season, but came back to beat the Swathers in the sub-state finals.
Carlson said she asked her players after the game if they thought they could beat Hesston. They said yes.
“I said, ‘That’s important, you just have to keep your heads up,'” Carlson said. “Right now, we can’t let this stop us.”
Halstead-For a Trojan team struggling with consistency to the point of self-doubt in recent weeks, last Tuesday’s game with Halstead may have been just what the doctor ordered. The Trojans played loose and effectively against an overmatched Dragon team and rolled to a 67-30 win at Brown Gymnasium.
Halstead came in with only two wins all season and recently lost its best player, All-MCAA performer Lindsey Miles, to a knee injury. It didn’t take long to see the Dragons simply didn’t have the talent to challenge the Trojans, who moved to 13-3 with the win.
Even so, Hillsboro came out of the gates slowly, hitting only one of its first nine shots, and trailed 8-4 midway through the first quarter. But a 12-0 run over the last three minutes put the home team in command, 18-12, by quarter’s end.
“We started out a little bit nervous,” coach Becky Carlson said. “But when we relaxed, we moved the ball well, we played good defense, we were aggressive in the passing lanes.”
Aggressive, indeed. The Trojans racked up 22 steals during the game, including a team-high six by Jill Hein. Easy baskets off the fast break helped the Trojans shoot nearly 58 percent from the field over the final three quarters and 45.5 percent for the game.
Another positive development was the play of Sara Thiessen. The Trojans’ senior post scored 12 of her team-high 14 points in the first half and helped Hillsboro build a 39-18 advantage by halftime. For the game, she was 7-of-11 from the field.
The Trojans also took better care of the ball, limiting themselves to eight turnovers while generating 19 assists.
“The people who needed confidence got some,” Carlson said. “At least I hope so.”
Coming-The Trojans played at Sterling Tuesday. The results of that game are posted on the Free Line (947-3363) and the Free Press Web site (old.hillsborofreepress.com).
On Friday, the Trojans will play host to Ellinwood, then close out the regular season at home against Smoky Valley next Tuesday.