ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
What a difference two months makes.
The Hillsboro girls were nearly run out of Wichita Collegiate’s gymnasium during a 77-38 thrashing in early December.
But in Friday’s rematch in Brown Gymnasium, Hillsboro gave the state-ranked Spartans all they could handle before dropping a 41-31 decision.
“I’m not one to commend losing by any means, and when you lose by 10 you can see different ways maybe you could have won,” coach Becky Carlson said. “But when we played this team the first time, there wasn’t anything that we could even see.
“The improvement we have made, and the character we showed in the second half to come back when we could have given up…. I felt like this was a good game for us.”
Indeed. The Spartans, ranked seventh in Class 4A by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association, never led the Trojans by more than 12 points-and for much of the game, the margin was significantly closer.
The Trojans emerged from a defense-oriented first quarter trailing 7-4. Hillsboro made only one of nine field goal attempts, but Collegiate managed only two of nine.
Collegiate scored first in the second quarter, but when JuliAnne Chisholm converted a traditional three-point play with 3:50 left in the half, the Trojans were right back in it at 9-7.
But that opened the door to what became the decisive stretch of the game. The Trojans turned the ball over against the press three straight times and the Spartans made them pay, piecing together a 10-0 run and taking a 19-7 lead with a minute left in the half.
A pair of free throws by Emily Ratzlaff cut the margin at intermission to 19-9.
“We were in foul trouble and we went to that zone,” Carlson said about Collegiate’s surge. “They hit their shots and we had some turnovers because we didn’t get set up on the press right.”
During the intermission, Carlson said she told her team not to panic or be discouraged.
“I just told them that you hang in there and don’t give up,” she said. “We all make mistakes, but the biggest mistake is just focusing on yourself. I thought they came back and did a really good job.”
If they had any chance of catching the Spartans, the Trojans needed some offense-and they found some as they began to exploit a back cut off the high post.
“That low block was open for a time,” Carlson said. “They are just so quick, it was hard to make those passes. They are a very quick team and they play that zone very well.”
Still, the Trojans nearly doubled their offensive output of the entire first half with a 15-point third quarter that cut Collegiate’s lead to as little as three points, 25-22, with 11/2 minutes left in the period.
A 6-2 surge pushed the lead back to 31-24 at the break.
When Ratzlaff hit a 5-footer to start the final quarter, the Trojans were back to within five points. But the Spartans outscored Hillsboro 10-5 the rest of the way to secure the victory.
The Trojans held the Spartans’ leading scorer, Kelcii Peck, to only four points, but Sam Smalley, a 5-foot-8 senior, killed the Trojans inside with a game-high 17 points. Guard Ashley Bell added 13, primarily from the outside.
As a team, the Spartans managed only 19 field goals in 41 attempts for 46 percent shooting-but the Trojans did not give up a single 3-pointer.
“(Spartan coach Chance Lindley) is probably frustrated with how his girls played, but it’s probably because how we played,” Carlson said.
The Trojans’ strong defensive play included 10 steals, including four by Chisholm.
Ratzlaff led the Trojans’ attack with 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting from the field and 3-for-3 shooting from the line. Katie Fast added nine points and Chisholm seven.
As a team, the Trojans made 11 of 34 field-goal attempts for only 32 percent, but were 8-for-11 from the free-throw line.
“We took some shots and they rolled around and went out,” Carlson said. “But I felt like this was a good game for us.”
The loss dropped the Trojans’ season record to 10-8 while Collegiate improved to 17-2.
Coming-Hillsboro played on the road at Haven on Tuesday. A complete report of that game will appear in this week’s Free Press Extra, on newsstands late Thursday afternoon.
On Thursday, the Trojans make the long trip to Ellinwood for a makeup game that will complete the regular season.
Next week, sub-state play begins in Brown Gymnasium. The pairings won’t be announced until later, but the Trojans can nail down a No. 4 seed with a pair of wins. The top three seeds likely will be Hutchinson Trinity, Hesston and Marion, respectively.