ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The Hillsboro girls tuned up for sub-state play with a solid 51-32 win over Smoky Valley in the regular-season finale for both teams, Tuesday, Feb. 19, at Brown Gymnasium.
Coach Becky Carlson said afterward that she and her team have been working hard recently to finish their plays for a positive end.
The work paid off early as the Trojans, fueled by some easy baskets off defensive steals, jumped to a 13-2 lead at the end of the first quarter. Except for an error at the scorer’s table that awarded a basket by Hillsboro’s Shelby Estelle to Smoky Valley, the Trojans would have pitched a 15-0 shutout.
During the second quarter, the Trojans lapsed into a few bad habits, turning the ball over six times and making only four of their 12 shots from the field.
The Vikings capitalized, creeping to within six points on a 3-pointer by freshman Jade Pihl with 31 seconds left in the half. Shannon Kroeker countered with a basket 11 seconds later to give Hillsboro an eight-point lead at intermission, 22-14.
“It looked a little sloppy there for a while because the game got a little out of control,” coach Becky Carlson said. “We executed a little too fast and didn’t catch the ball before we shot it.”
Hillsboro regained control of the game with a 14-3 third quarter. Six Trojans contributed baskets while the defense held the Vikings to 1-for-11 shooting from the field and kept them off the free-throw line.
Even though Carlson substituted liberally during the fourth quarter, the Trojans still led by 19 points when the final buzzer sounded. They put the Vikings on the free-throw line seven times during the final five minutes of the game, but the visitors made only five of 12 charities.
Carlson was pleased with the mental and physical performance of her team on the brink of tournament play.
“I think we finished more things than we have been,” she said. “I don’t think we gave up many offensive rebounds. When we stole the ball, we didn’t turn it back over. We’ve been working a lot on that.”
Hillsboro stole the ball 22 times, with Amber Hefley snatching six to lead the team.
On offense, the Trojans shot nearly 49 percent from inside the arc, but made only two of 12 from behind it. Over the last five games, the Trojans are 15-of-74 from long range, a success rate of just over 20 percent.
Individually, Kroeker continued to be “Miss Consistency” for Hillsboro with a game-high 15 points. Hefley added 11.
Estelle, who was 4-of-6 from the field, finished with a career-high eight points but almost had 13. In addition to the basket she lost at the scorer’s table, she nailed a 3-pointer in the second quarter that was waved off because a teammate was whistled for a violation as Estelle was going up for the shot.
Carlson was pleased with her team’s overall offensive play, which has been her biggest concern over the past few weeks.
“We just want to execute,” she said. “We play really hard on the defensive end, and I want us to play as hard on the offensive end. I think we’re getting there. I saw some good back cuts and some fast breaks that we haven’t had for a while.
“I thought everybody who played, played well,” she added. “I think by the time post-season rolls around, we will be ready to finish.”
Hillsboro opened sub-state play Tuesday as the No. 2 seed with a 16-4 record. The Trojans’ opponent, Marion (10-10), was the No. 7 seed in a field of teams with no losing records.
The results of that first-round game are posted on the Free Line (947-3363) and the Web (old.hillsborofreepress.com).
The winner of the Trojan-Warrior matchup will play in the semifinals on Friday at Lyons against either Southeast Saline (16-4) or Ellinwood (11-9). Check the Free Line or the Web for the starting time.
Girls’ sub-state finals will begin at 6 p.m., Saturday, in Lyons.