Trojans capture 3rd place in SES tournament

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
A Hillsboro girls’ team that has never been greedy to accept charity took advantage of it big time Friday night to preserve an impressive 52-44 win over Junction City in the battle for third place at the Southeast of Saline Invitational.

Warding off a furious fourth-quarter effort by the Class 6A Bluejays, the Trojans, who came into the game shooting 41 percent from the free-throw line for the season, nailed 16 of 23 free throws down the stretch to successfully complete a masterful performance.

“I think they thought they could do it, but I think this win and the win over Lyons-it has to boost their confidence,” coach Becky Carlson said of her squad.

“I just saw them playing like an awesome team. I’m real proud of them. They executed the offense well, and played great team defense.”

That was never more true than in the first half, when the Trojans established a 25-14 lead on 11-for-17 shooting from the field and a defensive effort that frustrated Junction City into 6-for-30 shooting.

“I just don’t think they knew how good we guard,” Carlson said about the Bluejays’ poor shooting. “We stopped everything they tried, and Katie really bothered them on the inside. It took all of them out of their game.”

Indeed, Katie Fast was a force to be reckoned with on both ends of the court. On defense, the 6-foot-1-inch senior blocked or altered Junction City’s inside shots. On offense she played arguably the best half of her career, scoring 10 points by intermission with aggressive moves to the basket.

“Katie stepped up and did an excellent job on offense,” Carlson said. “She was very focused.”

So were her teammates, who pieced together an amazing 19-2 run after Junction City scored the first three points in the opening minute of the contest.

Hannah Marsh ignited the fuse with a 15-footer with 5:55 to play in the opening period. By the time Fast scored on a drive to the hole with 4:52 left in the second quarter, Hillsboro was up by 14 points, 19-5.

During that stretch, the Bluejays made one field goal in 17 attempts.

“Our guards did a great job on their players, and Amy (Duerksen) helped out on the backside,” Carlson said.

But Junction City showed its explosiveness on offense, tossing in nine points during the final 31/2 minutes before halftime.

Three baskets by JuliAnne Chisholm over that same stretch minimized the damage, and Hillsboro still enjoyed a double-digit lead at the break, 25-14.

The Bluejays came out with full-court pressure in the third quarter, contributing to seven Hillsboro turnovers. Even so, the Trojans’ lead diminished by only one point by quarter’s end at 36-26.

“A couple of times we just didn’t go get the ball,” Carlson said about the turnovers. “But as far as errant passes with nobody around, we did a good job of not doing that. And (Junction City) really put it on thick.”

In a study of contrasts, the Bluejays threw up 21 shots during the third quarter and made six (29 percent), while the Trojans managed only five field-goal attempts but cashed in on four (80 percent).

That paved the way for a dramatic fourth period, when Brianna Buchanan, Junction City’s standout guard, took the game into her own hands with an impressive offensive show that resulted in 14 points.

Her 2-pointer and 3-pointer to start the quarter suddenly had the Bluejays within five points, 36-31.

But the Trojans, who went without a field goal the entire quarter, took advantage of Junction City’s desperation to get back into the game by making them pay at the foul line.

During the final 51/2 minutes, Chisholm made five of 11 charity tosses, Emily Ratzlaff canned seven of eight and Fast and Marsh each went 2-for-2.

Each of those four players finished with double-digit scoring. Fast led with 14 points, followed by Chisholm with 13, Ratzlaff with 12 and Marsh with 10.

As a team, the Trojans made 15 of 29 shots from the floor (52 percent), and 20 of 30 free throws (67 percent).

Junction City, meanwhile, threw up 71 shots during the game and made only 20 (28 percent). Buchanan finished with 20 points to lead the Bluejays.

Carlson said her team, particularly Marsh, defended Buchanan well and ultimately kept the Bluejay senior from turning the game around down the stretch.

“(Buchanan) did step up at the end, but I think she was tired from having to work so hard all night long,” Carlson said.

Her own team put in a yoeman’s effort, too-for the second straight night.

“After last night (against Salina South), you just don’t know what to expect,” she said. “But I think the true character of this team came out tonight. They played so hard last night and turned around and played that hard again tonight. They played as well as I’ve seen them play all year.”

Hillsboro’s two freshmen, Chisholm and Marsh, were picked for the all-tournament team.

Salina South-Great defense and great effort ultimately weren’t enough to pull the Hillsboro Trojans past Salina South in Thursday’s semifinal game.

An edge in 3-point shooting and free throws carried the Class 5A Cougars (8-4) into the championship bout against Abilene with a 36-23 victory in a game where aggressive defense dominated.

Both teams shot around 30 percent for the game, but Salina South put up seven more shots, carried a 7-2 advantage in 3-pointers and made eight more free throws with nine extra attempts.

Coach Becky Carlson was pleased with her team’s play, considering the Trojans didn’t win.

“I thought we played great defense and I thought we hustled as well as I’ve seen us hustle all year,” she said. “Except for the shooting percentage, I thought this was the best game we’ve played.”

The game took on the flavor of an offensive shootout in the early moments.

After Emily Spickler, South’s top scorer and eventual tournament MVP, scored on a drive to the basket just 12 seconds into the game, Hillsboro’s Emily Ratzlaff came back 16 seconds later with a 3-pointer from the right wing.

But after that initial burst, neither team scored until Kelli Noonan nailed the Cougars’ first 3-pointer of the night with 2:55 left in the opening period to give South a 5-3 lead.

Within the next minute, Spickler followed with another basket and Cherise Erickson bagged a 3-pointer to pump the lead to 10-3.

Amy Duerksen’s basket in the paint made it 10-5 at the first break.

Two more 3-pointers, one by Erickson and one by Whitney Engel, plus another basket by Spickler, pushed South’s lead to 18-5 in the second quarter.

Missing several shots from close range, Hillsboro didn’t score until the 2:19 mark, when JuliAnne Chisholm put back a rebound, was fouled and canned the free throw for a three-point play.

After a South free throw, Sara Hamm rebounded a Trojan miss and scored to pull Hillsboro within nine points, 19-10, at intermission.

The Trojans made their best run at the Cougars during the early minutes of the third quarter. After a basket by South, the Trojans got back-to-back baskets by Chisholm, Hannah Marsh and Duerksen to pull to within five, 21-16, with 4:50 left in the quarter.

But the Cougars outscored the Trojans 7-2 to take a 28-18 lead by the time the quarter ended.

To their credit, the Trojans did not allow a field goal the entire fourth quarter. But in an effort to get the ball back, Hillsboro fouled. The Cougars responded by making eight of 10 free throws to secure the win.

The Trojans put up only 30 shots in the game and made 10. Carlson said South’s defense was a factor, but her team simply had an off night shooting the ball.

“Actually, I thought we had some really good shots; we just couldn’t get them to fall,” she said. “Then the frustration builds because you look at the score and you’re behind.”

Chisholm led a balanced but modest offensive attack with seven points on 3-for-7 shooting. Ratzlaff chipped in five points and Duerksen scored four points and pulled down a team-high seven rebounds.

South made only 13 of its 42 shots (31 percent), but seven baskets came from behind the arc. Noonan finished with a team-high 11 points.

Spickler, who came in averaging 15 points a game, managed only eight.

“I felt our guys did such a good job on help defense and situations like that,” Carlson said. “I felt like we did everything we needed to do, except we just couldn’t get the ball in the hole.

“Overall, except for not winning, I was definitely pleased with our effort. They’ve never given up. I’m disappointed that we lost, but I’m very proud of them.”

Coming-The Trojans, 8-5 for the season following their showing at Southeast, were scheduled to take on Nickerson at home Tuesday. A complete report of that game will appear in this week’s Free Press Extra, on newsstands late Thursday afternoon.

This Friday, Ellinwood comes to Brown Gymnasium for a Mid Central Activities Association Mid Division contest. The Trojans lead the division with a 4-0 mark while Ellinwood is 2-2 in the division and was 2-8 overall after last week’s play.

Next Tuesday, Lyons (8-4) comes to town to rekindle their rivalry. Lyons’ only loss in division play was to the Trojans.

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