ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
It’s true. History does repeat itself-at least sometimes.
For the second year in a row, the Hillsboro boys lost an early-season game to Hesston only to turn the tables when it counted most with a win in the sub-state championship game.
Another consistent theme: when Hillsboro and Hesston tangle, it’s all-out war on the hardwood.
Few among the capacity crowd that filled Brown Gymnasium Saturday night would have guessed the final margin would be 58-44-not after the way the two state-ranked rivals exchanged blows during a first half that ended in a 24-24 draw.
“They’re a really good team, they play great defense,” coach Darrel Knoll said afterward. “We knew we were going to have to battle the entire game.”
After a charging foul wiped out a basket by Hesston’s Kendall Dreier in the opening seconds of the game, Hillsboro delivered the first scoring blow when Kyle Jilka scored in the low post with a minute gone.
The two teams stayed even until Hillsboro pieced together with a 9-2 midway through the period to grab an 11-5 advantage.
But with 2:20 left in the quarter, Dreier came back with a put-back followed 20 seconds later with a layup and foul shot for a traditional 3-point play, pulling Hesston back within a point.
Daniel Deckert scored the final points of the period with a bucket in the paint with 1:46 to go to give Hillsboro a tenuous 13-10 advantage at the break.
Deckert scored again five seconds into the period, but Hesston came back on a basket by Dreier and a traditional 3-point play by Jeremy Kaufman to tie the score at 15 with 5:27 left in the half.
Toby Berg, Hillsboro’s 6-foot-7 senior, came off the bench to score in the post with 4:52 to go. But seconds later, when Deckert was called for a foul and bounced the ball hard in frustration, the officials added a technical foul.
Andy Bartell hit both ends of the one-and-one and Grady Pauls hit both technical shots to vault Hesston into the lead for the first time at 19-17.
Berg, who scored seven points in the quarter, came right back with a basket to tie the game at 19. With 1:08 to play, a Berg basket tied the game once more at 24.
Hesston had three straight stabs at the basket before the buzzer sounded, but could not break the tie.
“We didn’t do a very good job of taking care of the boards in the second quarter,” Knoll said. “I thought that was the real difference in their comeback. I just felt we were fortunate to be tied at halftime.”
Tyler Peachey picked up the torch for Hillsboro in what turned out to be a pivotal third quarter.
The Trojans’ scoring leader for the season took charge of the court in the opening 31/2 minutes, pouring in seven points to help his team to a 33-26 lead.
After Dreier scored in the post for Hesston, Berg rebounded his own miss and scored, Eric Weinbrenner nailed a 15-footer, Peachey added his third basket of the period and Jilka made one of two free throws to give the Trojans a 40-28 lead with only 4.6 seconds left in the period.
But that’s all Hesston’s Randall Dreier needed. The senior drove down the sideline, stopped three feet behind the arc on the right wing and nailed a wide-open 3-pointer at the buzzer to cut the margin to 40-31.
The Trojans, who lost their first meeting with Hesston after leading through the first three quarters, refused to be shaken by the roar of the Hesston crowd as the two teams returned to their respective benches for the final break.
“We talked a lot about matching their intensity level,” Knoll said. “We knew they’d turn up the pressure in the fourth quarter when it became do-or-die because they’ve won a lot of games in the fourth quarter.
“I thought we did a great job of scoring up strong and keeping our composure.”
It started early.
The Hillsboro crowd threw out its biggest roar of the game moments into the final period when Derek Hamm, leaping high into the air, tipped a missed Hesston shot toward the far sideline. Caleb Marsh grabbed the loose ball and fired a strike down court to a streaking Jilka, who caught it in stride and laid it through the basket for two points.
After Kendall Dreier responded with a free-throw, Peachey scored an old-fashioned three-point play with 6:17 left for a 45-32 Trojan lead.
Hesston made one last charge with back-to-back 3-pointers by Kendall Dreier and Luke Simmering that cut Hillsboro’s lead to seven with 4:57 to play.
After Weinbrenner sank both ends of a one-and-one with 4:05 to play, the Trojans forced a turnover and Marsh drew a foul that sent him to the line with another one-and-one opportunity.
The call also sent Hesston coach Ty Rhodes over the edge, and he was whistled for a technical foul for expressing his frustration.
By the time Marsh made both of his free throws and Weinbrenner added two more for the technical, Hillsboro was up by 13 again at 51-38 with 3:45 on the clock.
Worse for Hesston, Hamm was fouled on the ensuing possession and added one more free throw 14 seconds later.
In the time remaining, the two teams essentially traded points-and lost players on fouls. Jilka and Deckert were sent to the bench for Hillsboro while Bartell took a seat for Hesston.
As the final buzzer sounded, Trojan fans let loose a final roar, knowing their team was headed for Hutchinson for the third straight year and the 10th time in Knoll’s 16 years at the helm.
“We did some nice things in the first half, but in the second half I thought we just did it more consistently throughout the entire half,” Knoll said. “I thought this was a great team effort.”
Peachey, the only Trojan to reach double figures, finished with 14 points. But Hillsboro got nine points each from Weinbrenner, Deckert and Berg, while Hamm and Jilka each added seven.
For Hesston, Kendall Dreier was credited with 14 points, the only player on his team to reach double figures.
“I kept telling the guys every timeout, ‘We’ve got to play to win, we’ve got to play to win’-and we did,” he said. “I think that’s what allowed us to do it.”
Semifinals vs. Southeast
Any hope sixth-seeded Southeast of Saline had of sneaking up on state-ranked Hillsboro Thursday night was shot down early in a display of deadly 3-point shooting by the home team.
The Trojans from Hillsboro scored direct hits on the first four 3-point shots they fired, then used their 12-0 lead as a springboard to a 71-45 win over the Trojans from Southeast of Saline.
Finding the right side of the court ripe for scoring, Caleb Marsh struck first blood from the corner only 20 seconds into the game. Kyle Jilka followed with back-to-back bombs from the corner and wing, and Eric Weinbrenner capped the initial barrage with a shot from the wing at the 5:47 mark.
Hillsboro coach Darrel Knoll said his shooters took advantage of Southeast’s triangle-and-two defense that focused on stopping Hillsboro’s top two scorers, Tyler Peachey and Weinbrenner.
“I just told everybody if they go to some kind of junk defense, we should make sure the other guys played in the gaps,” he said.
“Jilka and Marsh are good 3-point shooters. They were wide open and were allowed to catch it in rhythm and shoot it. Luckily, the shots went down and we were able to jump into the lead right away.”
Southeast came back to score five straight points, but Hillsboro responded with an 8-0 run to expand the lead to 20-5 with a minute left in the period.
Southeast sandwiched another bucket by Jilka with a pair of free throws by Jason Mann and then a Hail-Mary 3-pointer at the buzzer by Bryson Flax to cut Hillsboro’s lead at the break to 22-10.
If the hometown Trojans struggled in this game, it happened in the second quarter, when they were whistled for seven defensive fouls and, as a result, had trouble establishing a rhythm on offense.
But even that cloud had a silver lining. Southeast made only five free throws in 12 trips to the line during that quarter. Two of their misses came on the front end of a one-and-one.
“We weren’t moving our feet quite as well,” Knoll said about the fouls. “They called the game tighter than we’re used to for a while-but they were calling it both ways, so I’m not uptight.
“It was a little stagnant for awhile, but fortunately we were able to get out and finish the quarter. So that helped out.”
It also helped that the purple-clad Trojans not only missed opportunities at the free-throw line, but they made only one shot in five attempts from the floor.
As a result, Hillsboro was able expand its lead to 35-17 at intermission despite making only four of 11 shots from the field.
Hillsboro nailed the door shut on Southeast during the first two minutes of the third quarter. The hometown Trojans pieced together a 9-0 run on two baskets by Marsh, one by Jilka and a 3-pointer by Daniel Deckert to take a 44-17 lead.
Southeast managed only two baskets in 12 attempts during the quarter, and Hillsboro led 50-23 at the break.
Hillsboro built its biggest lead of the night, 55-23, 20 seconds into the fourth quarter on a 2-pointer by Lucas Hamm and a 3-pointer by Jilka.
Southeast then warmed up from the outside with four 3-pointers, nearly doubling its offensive output for the game with 22 points in the final period.
Despite its late productivity, Southeast finished with 13-for-42 shooting, or 31 percent accuracy. Half of those were 3-pointers, and only seven dropped through.
“I thought we did a nice job of taking away everything they wanted,” Knoll said. “Early, we switched out on the guards and they had trouble getting good looks. I thought Marsh and Eric did a really nice job talking to each other, switching out and doing the kinds of things we worked on doing against them.”
As a team, Hillsboro shot better from the field (27 of 50 for 54 percent) than from the free-throw line (eight of 16 for 50 percent).
“Before the game started, I told the guys they had to win the boards and the free throws,” Knoll said. “We won the boards (43-24), but the free throws were a little less than par tonight. Hopefully, we’ve missed all our free throws now and have that out of the way.”
Marsh led Hillsboro’s attack with 18 points on 7-for-9 shooting from the floor, including four of six 3-point attempts. He passed out a team-high six assists.
Jilka chipped in a career-best 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting, including three of four 3-pointers. He added a team-high nine rebounds.
“Marsh and Jilka had a game tonight,” Knoll said. “Those guys have the ability to score big. Tonight they were open and did it.”
Peachey added 12 points on 3-for-11 shooting from the floor but a perfect 6-for-6 performance from the line. In all, nine Trojans contributed to the scoring column.
“I thought our effort was excellent,” Knoll said. “We seemed to have a spring in our step that maybe we were missing in the second half of the last game. I think we’re playing pretty well.”