ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The Hillsboro Trojan boys ended a great season with a great display of character, coming off a disappointing semifinals loss Friday night to beat Riley County, 66-61, in the battle for third place on Saturday afternoon.
Only 16 hours after seeing their state championship dream shattered in a humbling 68-46 loss to Minneapolis, the Trojans appeared quietly determined from the outset to show themselves and their fans that the past was behind them.
Riley County took a 2-0 lead 30 seconds into the game on a basket by Andy Boyd. The Trojans missed their first two shots from the field, but then seniors Caleb Marsh and Tyler Peachey each scored twice to give the Trojans an 8-2 margin with 4:49 left in the quarter.
Hillsboro would maintain the lead and control of the game the rest of the way.
“I think it’s important to set the tone in any game,” coach Darrel Knoll said about his team’s solid start. “We were really talking about the fact that last night was over. Today we needed to come back and finish right. We needed to at least to play up to the ability we were playing all season.”
A 3-pointer from the corner by senior Kyle Jilka in the final two seconds of the opening period gave the Trojans a 20-12 margin at the break. Marsh and Peachey each finished the quarter with six points.
When Marsh drained a 3-pointer from NBA distance to start the second period, this day seemed destined to go Hillsboro’s way. Toby Berg followed with a six-footer to push the lead to 24-12 with 6:18 to play in the half.
After the two teams traded free throws over the next two minutes, Eric Weinbrenner nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key and Daniel Deckert added a couple of baskets to push Hillsboro’s lead to 33-18 with 3:10 to play.
The Falcons made a late 6-0 surge to close the gap to 33-24 by intermission.
Riley continued its hard play in the third period, making six of its first eight shots from the floor. But they could not close the gap on Hillsboro, thanks in part to 10 more points from Peachey during the period.
Weinbrenner contributed a 3-pointer and Deckert added a bucket in the low post to keep the Falcons at bay, 48-41, by quarter’s end.
The Trojans then put together a great 51/2 minutes of basketball to start the final quarter of the season. Peachey ignited a 15-4 run with a layup off a steal just 14 seconds into the period, then ended it with an impressive drive and dunk with 2:42 to play.
In between, Derek Hamm added four points, Weinbrener a 3-pointer, Deckert a pair of free throws and Peachey also scored in the paint.
With a commanding 63-45 lead, the outcome of the game seemed determined to everyone in the Hutch Sports Arena-except the Falcons, who responded to some ragged play by the Trojans down the stretch with hustle and sharp shooting to close the margin to five points at the final buzzer.
“I was happy we won because Riley’s a good team,” Knoll said. “We just made a few more shots than they did.
“You’ve got to be impressed that they didn’t quit at the end of the fourth quarter when it looked like there was no way they could win. It’s impressive that they played that hard down the stretch.”
Of course, Knoll was pleased with his team’s effort, too.
“I was really happy with our energy,” he said. “We seemed to come out really determined and were able to, defensively, take them out of what they wanted to do. We played a pretty smart game most of the time.
“If we had rebounded at the end of the second half and the end of the first half, the game doesn’t get as close as it did. But we were in pretty good control most of the ball game. I was very pleased with the effort.”
Peachey capped off a great senior season with 22 points on 10-for-12 shooting from the floor.
“Peachey did a nice job of getting himself inside and posting up hard,” Knoll said. “He had a pretty impressive dunk in the fourth quarter that kind of put an exclamation mark on his career and a great season.”
Weinbrenner was back on track against the Falcons, finishing with 15 points, including four 3-pointers in nine attempts. Marsh finished his HHS career with 10 points.
As a team, Hillsboro made 26 of the 46 shots it took from the floor for nearly 57 percent accuracy. The Falcons made 21 of 48 shots for just under 44 percent shooting.
Boyd finished with 18 points to lead Riley County and Ryan Kluttz added 15, but the two Falcon stars made only 11 of 29 shots, or 38 percent accuracy.
“They were both really good players,” Knoll said. “We knew we had to control them, and if we could control them we’d have a good chance of winning.
“I thought Caleb did a wonderful job of shutting down Kluttz,” he added. “All the guys played smart basketball.”
“I’m very happy for the seniors and very happy for this team to finish the way we did.”
The Trojans finished another successful run with a 22-4 record and a third-place finish at state for the second year in a row. Ironically, Riley County was the opponent both years in the season finale.
“They played tremendously hard all year,” Knoll said of his players. “They were a fun bunch to coach. I thought we just got after it hard and really played to win. It was a great season and the seniors played hard and played well together. I’m very happy for the guys.”
Minneapolis 68, HHS 46
For the first time this season, the Hillsboro boys simply were outmanned by the physical skills of an opponent-and, unfortunately, that time came in the semifinals of the state tournament.
The Minneapolis Lions, using a deadly combination of outside quickness and interior height, ended the Trojans’ dream of a state championship by a convincing 68-46 margin.
“They played great,” coach Darrel Knoll said of his second-seeded opponent. “We maybe didn’t play up to our ability, but they had a lot to do with that. They got after it and forced us into a lot of mistakes.”
Four of those mistake came in the critical opening minutes of the contest. The Lions capitalized on those turnovers and built a 9-0 lead with 4:42 left in the quarter.
“I was a little surprised we turned it over four times right there in the beginning,” Knoll said. “They turned it over two or three times themselves-it wasn’t like we were the only team turning the ball over. The difference was they were able to convert and we didn’t.”
Indeed, facing tremendous defensive pressure from the cat-quick Lions, Hillsboro missed its first three shots of the game-a couple of them badly off target-before Daniel Deckert nailed a 12-footer with 4:20 to play.
The Lions still controlled the pace of the game, though, and built a 19-8 lead by the first break. Josh Lott, a 6-foot-1 guard, scored seven points in the period and Luke Wedel, the Lions’ 6-7 post, added five.
The Trojans played the Lions almost even in the second period, thanks to the contributions of Toby Berg and Caleb Marsh on offense.
With Hillsboro’s Tyler Peachey and Eric Weinbrenner all but shut down by the Lion defenders, Berg and Marsh picked up the slack and combined for 12 of Hillsboro’s 17 points in the period. Two of Berg’s six points came on a dunk with 5:48 to play.
Even so, the Trojans were unable to get closer than 10 points of the Lions, who never allowed Hillsboro more than a 4-0 run during the entire game.
At intermission, Minneapolis led, 38-25.
Deckert started the third period with a 3-pointer for Hillsboro, but once again the Lions would not fold. If anything, they stepped up their effort to go inside-using the quickness of their guards to beat the Trojan defenders off the dribble, or the height and strength of Wedel in the low post.
By quarter’s end, the Trojans were down, 58-40.
Even so, the Trojan faithful harbored hope for one last charge in the final period. But it never developed. In fact, the Trojans, hurrying to catch up, finished the game with a miserable 3-for-19 performance from the field, and Minneapolis extended its lead to the final 22-point margin.
“In the second half we settled for shots where maybe we could have gotten a little better ones,” Knoll said. “Maybe we tried to get back into the game too quickly.
“They were just big on the inside and we had trouble stopping them there. They just played well. You’ve got to give them credit.”
The Lions’ penetration was a key factor in their success.
“We got ourselves into a little foul trouble,” Knoll said. “It’s hard to know how to defend based on how the game was being called. Once you’re in foul trouble, and you’ve already got two, three, four fouls, it makes it difficult to make the stop when they penetrate like that.”
Helped by their many baskets in the low post, the Lions finished with 58 percent shooting from the floor-despite a 3-for-8 showing from behind the arc.
Their shooting from the floor more than made up for their less-than-mighty 13-of-23 performance at the free-throw line.
Brandan Crum, a 5-10 guard, finished as the Lions’ high scorer with 25 points. Lott added 10 and Wedel nine.
The Trojans, meanwhile, shot a chilly 36 percent from the floor (20 of 56), including a 2-for-15 performance from behind the arc. Hillsboro went to the line only six times and made four.
No one broke double figures for Hillsboro. Deckert finished as the team’s top scorer with nine points.
“It was one of those games where I thought once we’d settle down, and we cut it to 10 a couple of times, that we’d be able to stay close and maybe cut the lead in the second half,” Knoll said.
“But we just didn’t make any shots, got ourselves into a big hole, and in the fourth quarter we didn’t play our game at all. That’s just the way it is.”
HHS 68, Frontenac 46
The Hillsboro Trojans opened their 10th trip to Hutchinson under coach Darrel Knoll with a solid 68-46 win over Frontenac Wednesday night.
Eric Weinbrenner scored 11 points in the second quarter to break open the game. He finished with 20 points for the night, as did senior Tyler Peachey.
A complete report of that game appears in the March 11 issue of the Hillsboro Free Press Extra, which will remain on newsstands through Thursday early afternoon.