ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ERIC CLARK AND DON RATZLAFF
Destiny and fate must have been on Hesston’s side Monday night as Hillsboro fell to the Swathers, 60-45, in the sub-state championship game, despite a valiant effort in the final quarter by the Trojans.
“It just wasn’t meant to be tonight,” coach Becky Carlson said. “That first quarter is kind of how the whole game went. We just didn’t get back on defense right away, and then we had to battle back the whole game. I thought during the fourth quarter we had a chance. We just couldn’t get any breaks.
“They played well and did everything they needed to do to beat us,” Carlson said about the Swathers.
The Trojans’ night looked bleak in the early minutes. The Swathers jumped to an early 7-0 advantage until Shannon Kroeker put Hillsboro on the board with a shot off the glass.
The Trojans added six more points in the quarter, but the Swathers led 13-8 at the break.
Hesston went on a 16-0 run to start the second quarter. Shelby Estelle ended the run with a shot at the two-minute mark to cut the margin to 19 points. Sara Thiessen added two points with a shot under the basket as the buzzer sounded for only Hillsboro’s fourth point of the quarter.
After intermission, the Trojans began mounting a serious comeback. A Kroeker steal and score at the 4:04 mark of the third quarter fueled the Trojan rally.
Although Hillsboro only managed to pull within 17 points in the third quarter, the momentum shifted in their favor heading into the final period.
At the start of the quarter, a barrage of Hillsboro scores helped cut the lead to seven, 50-43, with 4:30 to play.
But the Swathers were resilient. With time ticking away, Hesston freshman Kristen Frey put the nail in the coffin with a 3-pointer from the right side to begin a late 9-2 run.
After the game, Carlson said she was proud of her team’s character.
“I told them at halftime that they just needed to come out and play with some pride,” Carlson said. “They didn’t quit until I took them out, and that’s how these girls are. I’m proud of them. They played their hearts out.
“The season’s over. This is a good bunch of kids, and it’s sad to base your career on that one game, because that’s not a true testament of their career. They’re a great bunch of kids, good for our program.”
Shannon Kroeker finished the game and the season with a 14-point performance. Jill Hein added 13 points for Hillsboro, which finished with an 18-5 record.
Hesston, meanwhile, was led by its youth. Sophomore Liz Sowers scored 21, Frey added 16, and sophomore Sara Washburn chipped in 10 for the Swathers (20-3), who move on to the state tournament in Hutchinson later this week.
Hillsboro 56, SE Saline 40
It may be too much to say that Shannon Kroeker hit the game-winning shot in the third quarter of a close game. But her 3-pointer with a second left in that period broke a 31-31 tie and, more important, ignited a 22-9 fourth-quarter explosion that carried Hillsboro to a semifinal victory Saturday night.
“I think that was a momentum builder right there,” coach Becky Carlson said afterward. “We just started making our baskets. We relaxed a little bit more there, and our shots started falling.”
Hillsboro-and Kroeker-started the game in the same mode. The 5-10 senior nailed two 3-pointers and a 2-pointer in the first 2:30 of the game to give her team an 8-0 start.
One layup by Jenna Jost and two by Jill Hein off of steals increased Hillsboro’s lead to 14-5 with 2:22 left in the period.
But the purple-clad Trojans from Southeast battled back with seven points in the final 1:14 to close the gap to 16-12 at the break.
Through the next two quarters, the game was a cat fight, as both teams struggled to hit their shots and traded turnovers.
A bucket by Southeast’s Emily Elders finally pulled her team even at 20-20 with 2:42 left in the half. The two teams traded baskets one more time and went to the locker room at intermission tied at 22.
The third quarter followed a similar theme. Over a four-minute stretch midway through that period, Hillsboro missed six shots in a row. Southeast barely capitalized, though, scoring only three points over the same stretch. But that was enough to put them in front, 27-25.
Hillsboro’s Andrea Peachey scored in the paint on a feed from Jill Hein, and Kroeker added two free throws 11 seconds later following a Southeast turnover and foul, to put Hillsboro ahead again, 29-27.
When Southeast took the lead once more on two free throws and a layup, Hein hit a 16-footer from the right wing to tie the game at 31 with 28 seconds left and set the stage for Kroeker’s shot at the buzzer.
“We just went cold,” Carlson said about her team’s offensive struggle through the second and third periods. “I don’t know how else to explain it. I don’t think we did anything different.”
Hillsboro’s surge early in the fourth quarter was fueled by the turnovers it forced on defense and the transition buckets scored on the fast break.
“I think it helped a lot that we scored and we could press,” Carlson said. “That really took them out of their game. Also, they kept throwing to the post on the give-and-go and we took that away.”
With 3:53 left to play and Hillsboro leading, 44-34, Carlson called timeout and went to the delay game.
“We’ve been practicing a lot on that,” she said. “I felt like I had kids in there who could make their free throws.”
She was right. Hillsboro hit 10 of 12 charities the rest of the way to seal the victory. Five players contributed at the line. The final two tosses, from Peachey, with 43.7 seconds left increased Hillsboro’s lead to 56-35.
Kroeker finished with 20 points to pace Hillsboro, including a 3-of-5 showing behind the arc and 5-of-6 at the free-throw line. She also collected five steals and six rebounds.
Hein played an aggressive game, finishing with eight points, four steals, seven assists and six rebounds.
Hillsboro 53, Marion 48
This is the way a rivalry is supposed to be reignited.
Marion challenged Hillsboro’s tradition of hoops domination with a spirited effort in the opening round of sub-state play Tuesday, but the Warriors came up short in the end, 53-48.
To their credit, the Warriors didn’t wilt in the face of some early Hillsboro heat. Jill Hein, on fire from long distance, nailed four 3-pointers in the first quarter to fuel a 19-11 Trojan lead at quarter’s end.
Once the Warriors came out of their zone defense, Hillsboro’s guns cooled considerably. The Trojans managed only one basket in 10 attempts in the second quarter after going 7-for-13 in the first.
While Hillsboro was misfiring, the Warriors’ Brandi Peterie, Krista Zogelman, Emmy Powers and Amy Tajchman scored baskets low in the paint to fuel an 8-1 run that cut the Trojan’s lead to one point, 20-19, midway through the second period.
Hillsboro bumped the margin to 24-20 by intermission, but Peterie led another Marion surge after intermission with three straight baskets on the screen-and-roll to pull her team into a 26-26 tie with 5:40 left in the third quarter.
“It’s something we just put in,” Marion coach Jerry Smith said about the play. “We worked on it in practice, and I almost junked it because we weren’t getting it.”
A bucket by Maggie Powers 17 seconds later gave Marion its first lead. The two teams traded scores over the next three minutes before Tajchman cashed in a traditional three-point play to put Marion on top for the last time, 36-35 with 1:52 left in quarter.
Hillsboro kicked its game up a notch and began breaking people loose underneath. Amber Hefley scored a layup off a nice feed from Jenna Jost with 1:38 left in the quarter. Then, following a steal by Shannon Kroeker, Hefley found Hein underneath for another score.
After another Marion turnover, Hefley hit a 17-footer with a second left on the clock to give Hillsboro a 41-36 lead at the break.
The two teams traded scores again through the opening minutes of the fourth quarter. After Marion’s Caitlin O’Dell got a 15-foot rim shot to bounce in with 3:08 to play, Hillsboro began spreading the court with a 47-44 lead.
Marion eventually began fouling to regain possession, but the Trojans made them pay for it.
Hefley started by hitting both ends of a one-and-one with 1:34 to play. Shelby Estelle, Hein and Holly Lindsay then combined to hit four of their next six charities to give the Trojans a 53-44 advantage with only 17.5 seconds left to play.
Over the same stretch, meanwhile, the Warriors committed key turnovers that let the game slip away. They finally broke a three-minute scoring drought in the final 16 seconds when Williams hit two free throws and Zogelman added a basket, but the outcome was already determined.
Hillsboro coach Becky Carlson was impressed with Marion’s effort, but also pleased with how her team responded to it.
“I think we definitely got Marion’s best game tonight and we still beat them,” Carlson said. “I thought we did a good job of running that delay and then making our free throws.
“It’s good for us to have a game like this,” she added. “It was good for us to hit those free throws. If we wouldn’t have, it would have been a whole different ballgame.”
Marion’s Smith said he was proud of his team’s play, too.
“I don’t know if it was the best game we played all year, but they sure played their hearts out,” he said.
“We wanted to push the ball and I thought we did a good job of that early,” Smith said. “We didn’t make a couple of shots at a crucial part of the game, but we played lights out.”
On the strength of her hot start, Hillsboro’s Hein finished with a game-high 18 points. Kroeker added 15 and Hefley nine for Hillsboro, which shot a consistent 38 percent both in front of the arc and behind it.
In addition to her offensive production, Kroeker stepped up big defensively when she was assigned to guard Peterie midway through the third quarter. The 5-10 senior held the 5-9 sophomore to only three points the rest of the way.
Peterie finished with a team-high 16 points and Zogelman added 10 for Marion, which ended the season with a 10-11 record. The Warriors shot an impressive 57 percent from the field.
“You talk about improvement, we’ve come a long way,” Smith said. “I’m not happy we lost, but I’m ecstatic about how we finished the season. The last two games, we showed we can compete with just about anybody.”