ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
One good half of basketball does not a season make.
But then again it might.
The Hillsboro girls overcame an eight-point halftime deficit Friday night to beat Smoky Valley, 45-44, in Brown Gymnasium to complete its pre-holiday schedule.
This was more than a first win for coach Becky Carlson and her troops. This was about a young team that had had its confidence shaken in its first three games, was trailing in this fourth game against a beatable foe-and then found within itself the determination to come back and win.
It wasn’t quite a Christmas miracle, but it felt like one.
“It’s really good that we came back from behind and we didn’t panic,” Carlson said afterward. “What I really liked, especially in the fourth quarter but also the whole second half, was the aggressiveness that we saw.”
This game began for Hillsboro much like the first three-missed opportunities to score coupled with costly turnovers.
The Trojans finally got on the board when JuliAnne Chisholm hit a 10-footer with 6:12 to play in the first period to cut the Vikings’ lead to 4-2. Katie Fast scored again a minute later, but the Trojans missed their next six shots and trailed at the break, 9-4.
Both teams stepped up their offense in the second quarter. Smoky Valley was finding success inside, scoring 14 of their 18 points from shots in the lane.
With the Vikings packing their zone defense inside, the Trojans got most of their 15 points from their guards, with Emily Ratzlaff scoring six.
A basket by Smoky’s Jordan Koch in the final seconds put the Vikings on top by eight, 27-19, at the break.
Carlson said she felt a lot of her team’s mistakes in the first half came from tentative play and frustration.
“I told them at halftime you can’t play not to lose, you have to play to win-you need to get those loose balls,” she said. “Some of the them, I didn’t know if we were going to get, but we went after them and we got them.”
An 8-2 run by Hillsboro to start the third quarter pulled the Trojans to within a bucket at 29-27 with 5:03 to play.
Hillsboro finally pulled into a tie at 31-31 on a steal and layup by Ratzlaff at the 2:18 mark.
After Smoky countered with a basket 15 seconds later, Marsh scored inside with 41 seconds to go, then stole the ball, was fouled on the layup, and made one of two free throws to give Hillsboro its first lead, 34-33, with 16 seconds on the clock.
A free throw by Smoky with 3.2 seconds left tied the game at 34 going into the final quarter.
Hillsboro struggled to score in that decisive period until Ratzlaff hit an 18-footer with 5:42 to play to tie the game at 36.
The next time down the court, Chisholm scored in the lane to put Hillsboro back on top with 5:04 to go. No one scored again until Fast converted a nice pass from Marsh with 2:33 left in the game for a 40-36 Trojan lead.
A free throw by Marsh at the 1:22 mark gave HHS its biggest lead at 41-36. The Vikings then hit three of six free throws over the next 32 seconds to cut the lead to two.
But Marsh, pushing the ball up the court, fed Sara Hamm with a nice pass and Hamm nailed the bucket from five feet out for 43-39 Trojan lead with 42 seconds left.
Smoky’s standout guard, Jade Pihl, missed a 3-pointer with 31 seconds left. But Chisholm, fouled on the rebound, missed both free throws.
Hamm rebounded the second miss, but Koch stole the ball and scored with 20 seconds left to close the gap to 43-41.
Ratzlaff then drew a foul with 13.6 seconds to go and calmly sank both free throws for a 45-41 Trojan lead. Pihl nailed a 3-pointer with nine seconds remaining to cut the lead to one, but the Trojans got the ball inbounds and ran out the clock for the win.
Carlson said Marsh’s driving pass to Hamm, and Hamm’s subsequent bucket typified her team’s play in the final quarter.
“That’s the aggressiveness I saw that whole fourth quarter,” Carlson said. “That play just kind of topped it off.”
Marsh and Ratzlaff each finished with 12 points to pace the Trojans, who improved from 35 percent shooting in the first half to 55 percent in the second half.
Marsh, only a freshman, had the primary responsibility of guarding Pihl. The Viking junior finished with only eight points.
“Our goal was not to let Pihl beat us,” Carlson said. “Some of their other girls did get some shots, but the bottom line was we stopped her-and everybody helped.”
The Vikings shot 38 percent from the field, while the Trojans finished at 43 percent. Both teams missed opportunities at the line, with Smoky making eight of 18 and Hillsboro nine of 19.
Carlson said her team has a lot to work on yet, but it’s heading in the right direction.
“I saw some improvement, and I think winning will help our confidence,” she said.
“I saw some good basketball, I saw some nice passes.
“We still need to work on the little things, like blocking out, not panicking and letting a team come back in spurts. But for the most part I felt good about our play.”
Hesston-The Trojans played second-ranked Hesston even though one quarter, but in the end succumbed to the Swathers, 55-26.
A complete report of the Hesston game can be found in this week’s Free Press Extra, which is on newsstands through Thursday noon.