ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Not that anyone would ever accuse Darrel Knoll of being superstitious, but the Hillsboro boys’ coach was more than a little pleased to come away with a 55-43 win on a Friday the 13th at Sterling, a place where the Trojans have frequently struggled.
“There’s a few things that we didn’t do tonight, but to come in here on a Friday the 13th and get a win-that’s an accomplishment in itself,” Knoll said.
“The last four times we’ve come here, it’s been the same deal. We get a lead in the first half, they whittle it down in the third quarter, and in the fourth quarter we give it away by not playing the game the way we play basketball.”
Indeed, the script seemed to be playing itself out that way on this night, too.
The Trojans put together a simply commanding first half, leading 19-5 at the first break and 31-13 at intermission.
Tyler Peachey led the charge with 12 points in the first quarter and 15 by halftime. But the Trojans’ performance was far from a one-man show.
Knoll praised the way his squad moved the ball on offense, hustled on defense and dominated the boards.
“Because we had such good movement, whenever we missed shots we got rebounds,” Knoll said. “We really owned the boards in the first half, and that’s what allowed us to get the 31-13 lead.”
But has been the case so frequently in the Black Bears’ den, the tide of the game began to turn in the second half.
Sterling set the tone with back-to-back 3-pointers by Kevin Laudermilk and Dallas Schnurr in the first two minutes of the third quarter. By the time three minutes had passed, Sterling had whittled the lead to 10 points, 33-23.
Hillsboro managed to maintain an 11-point lead at the break, 40-29.
“Even when we were fortunate to be as far ahead as we were, we knew they have the ability to make 3s,” Knoll said. “When you’re playing a team that has the ability to make 3s, no lead is safe.
“I don’t think we came out thinking our lead was safe, but I don’t think we played with the intensity we played with in the first half. There wasn’t much difference, but there was a little. It was enough for them to get off shots they didn’t get off in the first half.”
Even though Caleb Marsh started Hillsboro’s fourth quarter with an old-fashioned three-point play, Sterling’s slow comeback continued.
When Brent Schneider hit one of two free throws with 3:18 to play, the Black Bears were within seven, 48-41. But the Trojans stepped up their defensive effort in the final minutes and nailed down the 12-point victory.
“I was happy with the win and happy with our effort tonight,” Knoll said. “In the first half especially, I thought we made some great plays.”
Adding to the uncertain environment of the second half were several questionable calls by the officials.
“I thought the difference in the game down the stretch was that the guys didn’t let the officials get in their heads,” Knoll said. “They didn’t worry about the calls, and because of that we were still able to make plays. That was a big thing I tried to stress in our timeouts.”
Peachey finished as Hillsboro’s leading score with 25 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the floor, including two of four 3-point attempts. He made nine of 14 free throws.
Providing key support was Derek Hamm, who scored 11 points on 5-for-7 shooting, pulled down a team-high seven rebounds, and had three assists and three steals.
As a team, the Trojans shot a little better than 47 percent from the floor, including five for 12 attempts from behind the arc. Hillsboro held a 27-17 advantage in rebounding.
The Trojan defense helped limit the Black Bears to 34 percent shooting. Schnurr led the way with 16 points and Laudermilk added 11.
The wins improves Hillsboro’s MCAA Mid Division record to 6-0 and their overall record to 14-2. Sterling dropped to 2-4 and 6-11.
“We’ll learn from this and we’ll enjoy this win,” Knoll said. “I told the guys they should be very pleased to get the win here because it’s a tough place to win.”
Coming-The Trojans were scheduled to take to the road against a tough Mid Division foe in Halstead on Tuesday. Results of that game will appear in the Free Press Extra, on newsstands late Thursday afternoon.
On Friday, Wichita Collegiate (4-12) comes to Brown Gymnasium for a league game. On the following Tuesday, Hillsboro travels to Haven (14-3) to take on a dangerous Wildcat squad, then will travel to Ellinwood next Thursday for a makeup game that will complete the regular season.