CLASSIC RECOVERY: Trojans collapse against TMP, but come back to batter Belleville

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF & TOM STOPPEL
What a difference a day makes.

In less than 24 hours, the Hillsboro Trojan boys transformed themselves from doormats to dominators, taming a tough herd of Belleville Buffaloes, 52-33, to finish third at this year’s Trojan Classic.

Everything that was off track about the Trojans’ play in Friday’s humbling loss to Thomas More Prep-“everything” being the operative word-was back on track Saturday against Belleville.

“I thought we played a great game,” said coach Darrel Knoll, who celebrated his 300th career victory when it was over. “I told the guys in the locker room we were 10 to 100 times better than we were yesterday. We were more active on the ball on defense, we boarded a lot better, we ran the court a lot better.

“Offensively, we got a lot better movement,” he added. “We played a lot more like a team tonight, and it really showed up. We just seemed a lot more intent on playing basketball tonight than we were last night.”

That pretty well sums it up.

The transformation was evident from the opening tip as the Trojans hit their first three shots from the field-one by Eric Weinbrenner and two by Daniel Deckert-and led 6-2 less than two minutes into the game.

But Belleville battled back and actually slipped into the lead at 9-8 with 1:18 left in the quarter. Derek Hamm tied the game with a free throw 17 seconds later, and then Tyler Peachey nailed an 18-footer from the top of the key right before the buzzer to lift the Trojans into an 11-9 advantage.

That was the Buffaloes’ last bellow, however, as Hillsboro blitzed them with a 21-4 second quarter.

Weinbrenner lit the fuse with a 3-pointer to start the quarter and Peachey ended it by throwing up an off-balance 3-pointer in the final second.

On this night, it swished.

Peachey, who finished with 14 first-half points on the way to a game-high 18, played like a man determined to redeem himself and his team.

Ironically, the senior almost sat out the game after injuring his ankle the night before.

“Today at the shoot around, he was acting like it was hurting him pretty badly,” Knoll said. “I told him he’s either got to be tough and play or don’t play-one of the two. We iced it really hard all afternoon.

“Fortunately, he was able to get it to where he could play and I thought he came in as focused as I’ve seen him in many games. He did a great job of leading this team.”

The Trojans continued their strong play in the second half. While they didn’t extend the lead by game’s end, there was no doubt which team was in control.

Belleville crept to within 13 points early in the third quarter on a couple of unanswered buckets by Jackie Dyke and a 3-pointer by Clark McDonald. But the Trojans turned up the heat and led by as many as 23 points in the final period.

“They are a really good team,” Knoll said of Belleville. “We just did to them what TMP did to us-we jumped on them and they got on their heels. It’s not that they couldn’t play us a lot tougher and that we’re a lot better than them.”

On offense, the Trojans made close to 50 percent of their shots (20 for 41), while the defense contributed to Belleville’s dismal 31 percent accuracy (13 of 42).

Knoll praised his team’s defensive effort, but identified Caleb Marsh’s work on McDonald, Belleville’s leading scorer, with being a key to the victory. McDonald scored nine points, but only two in the first half.

“Marsh just shut down McDonald,” Knoll said. “He never really let him get in a rhythm-(McDonald) got maybe one or two open looks all night. That’s really tremendous defense to be able to do that for an entire game.”

Knoll said he wasn’t surprised by his team’s turnaround.

“I think the guys were really ready to redeem themselves,” he said. “They wanted to prove to themselves and to everyone else that they can still play basketball.”

As for achieving win No. 300 midway through his 16th season at HHS, Knoll was quick to share the achievement with others.

“I’ve been blessed with getting hired into a good situation and having the players I’ve had over the years,” he said. “I’ve just had a ton of guys who have been a big part of this-the type of players who were attentive to the game and worked hard in the off-season.”

Knoll was well aware of the impending milestone, but said it was far from being his foremost thought going into the Belleville game.

“I wasn’t worried about 300,” he said. “I was more worried about keeping this team going, and keeping them together and playing hard.”

Thomas More Prep-Even the world’s most expensive rose-colored glasses wouldn’t have made this one look good.

In what had to be one of their worst shooting performances in years, the Hillsboro Trojans fell to the TMP Monarchs in the second round of the Trojan Classic, 63-38.

“I don’t know what to say about tonight’s game,” a disheartened coach Darrel Knoll said. “We weren’t sharp offensively or defensively and we gave up offensive boards and didn’t make any shots.”

From the opening tip-off-which TMP controlled and turned into a Curtis Leiker layup four seconds into the game-the Trojans seemed a step behind their competition.

After Leiker hit another basket 25 seconds later, Tyler Peachey nailed a short jumper to cut the lead to 4-2-but it proved to be the Trojans’ last field goal of the quarter.

Time after time, Hillsboro maneuvered for quality shots only to see them clank off the iron and into the hands of Monarch players.

When the buzzer mercifully signaled the end of the first quarter, TMP was leading, 22-6, thanks in part to eight Trojan turnovers.

The Trojans showed some stabilization in the second quarter, but continued to misfire from the floor.

After Brandon Bieker hit two free throws to push TMP’s lead to 24-6, Hillsboro managed its best scoring stretch of the night-a 6-0 run culminated by a Toby Berg field goal to cut the margin to 24-12 with 6:20 to play.

Following a TMP timeout, the Monarchs hit Hillsboro with five straight points to extend the lead to 29-12 with 5:50 to play.

Much of the rest of the quarter was spent at the free-throw line. But the Trojans weren’t much more proficient there, making only nine of 15 attempts.

Hillsboro failed to score during the final 2:54 of the half, and trailed 36-19. The Trojans managed on only three field goals in the opening half.

Even with a significant halftime deficit, Knoll said his team didn’t concede at intermission.

“We thought if we could come out and make some shots and get a couple of stops, we could get right back into the game,” he said. “It’s not like 17 points is an insurmountable deficit.”

But it wasn’t to be. Hillsboro missed its first seven shots and wound up trailing 46-26 after three quarters.

“We thought we could get some turnovers by trapping them, which we did, but we didn’t convert on any of them,” Knoll said. “We just got ourselves too far in a hole.”

Nursing a huge lead, the Monarchs were content to melt time off the clock on each possession and coasted to the 25-point final margin.

Leading Hillsboro offensively was Peachey-who left the game in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury–with nine points. Derek Hamm scored six and Eric Weinbrenner and Kyle Jilka each added five.

The Trojans made only nine of 50 shots from the field (18 percent) and finished with a goose egg after 17 attempts behind the arc.

“If you’re not shooting the ball well, things look even worse sometimes,” Knoll said. “They were a good team and really took it to us.”

TMP was led by Leiker with 18, Bieker with 15 and Scott Hoffman with 12.

Hillsboro hit 20 of 32 free throws (62.5 percent) while the Monarchs made 23 of 31 (72.2).

Knoll said his team seemed lethargic and a step slow, but also gave credit to TMP.

“They’re a great team,” he said. “We’ve gotten them the last four or five times, but they came to play tonight and unfortunately we didn’t match up with their intensity.

“We didn’t play with them tonight but I’d like to have another shot at them,” he added.

“They really played well and we really didn’t. That’s the bottom line.”

Coming-The Trojans were scheduled to play host to Abilene on Tuesday. A complete report of that game will appear in this week’s Free Press Extra, on newsstands late Thursday afternoon.

Next Tuesday, Hillsboro (10-2) returns to Mid Central Activities Association action with a game against Nickerson (2-10).

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