ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
As much as the Hillsboro girls have improved over the season, they found out Friday they aren’t good enough yet to beat opponents without playing 32 minutes of focused basketball.
Sterling took advantage of a lethargic Trojan start, then held off a late rally to avenge last month’s 12-point loss with a 52-47 win at Brown Gymnasium.
The Black Bears (9-8, 4-2) scored the first eight points of the game before Hillsboro coach Becky Carlson called a timeout with 5:30 left in the first quarter. And although the Trojans woke up enough to pull within three points by quarter’s end, 16-13, they struggled most of the game to maintain the intensity needed to put them over the top.
“I just don’t think we came ready to play,” Carlson said. “I think we thought, ‘We beat these guys before and we’re going to beat them again because they’re not very good.’ So they get ahead, and then we get tight-we can’t hit our shots, we make bad passes. That’s what it looked like to me.”
The Trojans pulled within one point, 16-15, when April Funk scored the first basket of the second quarter. But a 7-1 Sterling run over the next two minutes helped the Black Bears extend their lead to 25-20 by intermission.
When Sterling missed five of its first six shots to open the third quarter, Hillsboro pulled within two points, 27-25, on a 3-pointer by Emily Ratzlaff and a pair of free throws by Amy Duerksen.
But Sterling’s Courtney Goad hit a pair of 2-point baskets and then a 3-pointer over the next two and a half minutes as the Black Bears extended the lead to 35-29 with 1:55 left in the quarter.
A basket by Sterling’s Lydia Smith and a free throw by Hillsboro’s Katie Fast put Sterling on top at the end of the quarter, 37-30.
When Adrienne Fulton completed a traditional 3-point play with 3:47 left in the game, Sterling had established its biggest lead since the first quarter, 44-36.
After Carlson called timeout with 3:23 to play, her team responded with its best basketball of the night. Duerksen and Fast each got to the foul line and made one of two free-throw attempts.
After another Trojan timeout with 2:04 to play, Charity Davis scored on an aggressive drive to the basket. Duerksen then scored in the paint and Funk hit both ends of a one-and-one to cut Sterling’s lead to 46-44 with 47.4 seconds on the clock.
Fulton scored for Sterling with 35 seconds left, but Ratzlaff hit her fourth 3-pointer of the game, this one from the left wing with 20 seconds left, to pull the Trojans to within a point, 48-47.
Goad immediately was fouled after taking the inbounds pass, then sank both ends of the one-and-one to extend Sterling’s lead to three points.
When Funk’s 3-point shot with 5.5 seconds left was partially blocked, Lydia Smith picked up the loose ball and was fouled with four seconds left. The Sterling senior nailed both free throws to secure the victory.
Carlson praised her team’s character to make a late charge, but she said the game should have never come to that.
“We missed so many easy shots in the lane,” she said. “We should have been ahead by 20 points. It wasn’t a very well played basketball game, mentally.”
The Trojans, normally an above-average shooting team from the field, managed only 10 baskets in 37 attempts inside the arc. They did hit five of eight from behind it, including four of five by Ratzlaff.
She and Fast finished with 13 points each to fuel the Trojan attack.
With the loss, Hillsboro dropped to 7-10 for the season and will have to win all three of its remaining games to finish the regular season at .500.
“We just have to keep going,” Carlson said. “Hopefully, we’ll learn something from this.”
Lyons-Hillsboro managed only one free throw in seven attempts in the last 1:30 of Tuesday’s game, enabling the Lions (11-5) to come back from an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter, tie the game in regulation, and then go on to post a 46-41 win in overtime. Katie Fast scored 17 points and Emily Ratzlaff 10 to lead the Trojans’ offense.
The Feb. 13 issue of the Free Press Extra carries a complete report of that game.
Coming-The Trojans took on Halstead (2-14) Tuesday. A complete report of that game will appear in this week’s Free Press Extra, which will be on newsstands Thursday late afternoon. Results also are posted on the Free Line (947-3363) and the Free Press Web site (www.hillborofreepress.com).
On Friday the Trojans travel to Wichita Collegiate to take on a Spartan squad that has rolled up an impressive 13-3 record since losing to the Trojans, 35-25, in December.
The girls will close their regular season Tuesday at home against Haven (8-9).