ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Like a kingpin battling to fend off all comers, the Hillsboro Trojan boys used a never-say-die defensive effort to claim the championship of the Dickinson County Classic last week.
The title happened to come Saturday night with a 46-34 win over Abilene. But Hillsboro’s three opponents were all but interchangeable: talented teams determined to bring down the perceived top dog.
The script for the three games was interchangeable, too: battle tooth and nail through three quarters, then pull away down the stretch.
It made for a dramatic week.
“We just beat three very good teams,” coach Darrel Knoll said after the Abilene game. “None of these teams are pushovers by any means. They are excellent teams with good players and good coaches. I feel very fortunate to have a team that played well enough to win.”
More specifically, Knoll’s team played well enough on the defensive end to overcome its inconsistency on offense.
That was never more true than the Trojan-Cowboy showdown, where Hillsboro shot 36 percent (12 of 38) from the field, but held its opponent to just 21 percent shooting (8 of 38).
“I just told the guys that our ability to stay after it hard on the defense end, and the ability to persevere, got our win tonight because we just struggled offensively,” Knoll said. “The open looks we couldn’t make, then we got stagnant. We just struggled all night.”
The Trojans established an 11-6 lead after one quarter on the strength of 3-pointers by Patrick Harrison and Eric Weinbrenner.
By halftime, the Trojans seemed ready to take command, using an 8-1 run over the last 31/2 minutes of the second quarter to take a 22-13 lead into intermission-despite 5-for-24 shooting for the half.
Abilene battled back to within four points, 29-25, by the end of the third quarter, then to within a single point, 32-31, with 5:48 left in game, thanks to six straight points by Ryan Herrman.
Organizers named the 6-foot-7 senior the tournament’s most valuable player even before the championship game was played.
Even so, the Trojans fended off the charge with a pair of 3-pointers from Harrison that sandwiched a free-throw by Daniel Deckert, giving Hillsboro a 39-33 advantage with 3:25 to go.
After Abilene hit a free throw, Kyle Kroeker came off the bench to hit four straight free throws over a 50-second span to push the Trojan advantage to 43-34 with 1:25 left. Weinbrenner added three more freebies in the final minute to nail down the victory.
“I was very proud of the team for playing hard and getting through a tough time,” Knoll said. “Once again, when the other team made a run at us, we were able to change up just a little and play a little harder. We had guys step up, and as a result we were able to pull away at the end.”
Harrison finished as Hillsboro’s high-point man with 13 points. Kroeker, Derek Hamm and Lucas Hamm each added 7.
“It was one of those games where it was hard to get in rhythm because the way the game was played,” Knoll said. “Both teams struggled-they struggled more than we did.”
The opening week of competition left Knoll hoping his team finds its rhythm on offense, but he’s already pleased with its overall intensity and determination.
“The character of the team is good,” he said. “If we can get the offensive side of it rolling, we’ll be in business.”
Rock Creek-A nine-point advantage in the third quarter turned the tide in the Trojans’ 54-42 win over Rock Creek on Friday.
Neither team could gain the advantage in a first half that ended with the Mustangs on top, 23-22.
With Hillsboro trailing by two points, 8-6, and 3 minutes left in the opening period, Derek Hamm scored six points and Eric Weinbrenner two for an 8-4 surge that carried the Trojans into the lead at the first break, 14-12.
The standoff continued into the second quarter. The Mustangs regained the lead for the first time at 22-21 on a basket in the paint by Brian Biesenthal with three minutes left in the half. The two teams each knocked down a free throw to end the first-half scoring.
A 7-0 burst to start the third period put the Trojans up by six, but Rock Creek came back to cut the lead to one at 30-29.
But a 3-pointer at the top of the key by Hillsboro’s Kyle Kroeker with 4:05 to play ignited an 11-4 Trojan run that was capped by a 3-pointer from Adam Scheele with 43 seconds on the clock to give HHS a 40-32 margin heading into the final period.
The Mustangs cut the lead to 42-38 in the first 21/2 minutes of the final period, but a 3-pointer by Patrick Harrison signaled the beginning of the end for Rock Creek as the Trojans finished the contest with a 9-4 surge.
Coach Darrel Knoll said some halftime adjustments enabled his team to take charge of the game.
“What we wanted to do in the second half was get our spacing better on offense, execute some screens-which we didn’t do the first half-and we did a nice job of getting the ball inside to Derek,” he said.
“In the first half, I thought we were a little quick on the (outside) shot. Not that the shots we took were bad, but we just didn’t give ourselves a chance to get the ball inside and attack.
“Defensively, we tried to trap a bit more and force the action a bit more in the back court so when they bought it up they had to scramble a little bit to do it,” Knoll added. “I thought that got them out of their offensive rhythm.”
For the second game in a row, Hamm finished as the team’s top scorer with 11 points, but teammate Daniel Deckert was right behind with 10, including five in the final period. Harrison nailed three 3-pointers for 9 points.
For the game, both teams hovered just below 45 percent in field-goal shooting, Hillsboro at 20-for-46 and Rock Creek at 15-for-36. Brad Swoyer and scored 12 points and Marc Stueve 11 to lead Rock Creek.
“I told the guys after the game we played to win the second half,” Knoll said. “Teams are going to play great games against us. They’re going to be fired up for us, and we’ve just got to continue to execute, continue to play to win. I thought we did that again tonight, similar to the Chapman game.”
Another similarity between the two games was the strong contributions Knoll received from his bench: Kroeker, Scheele, Wade Weibert, Peter Fast, Macy Fadenrecht and Chad Hughbanks.
“I told them whether you got in for two minutes or a lot more, every minute was big,” Knoll said. “Those guys did a nice job off the bench and really gave us some quality minutes at key times.”
Coming-The Trojans were to play their first home game of the season Tuesday against rival Wichita Collegiate. Results of that game will appear in this week’s Free Press Extra, on newsstands late Thursday afternoon.
On Friday, Hillsboro ends its pre-Christmas schedule with a home game against Ellinwood. The boys will tip off around 8 p.m.