ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
With his commitment to regular practices, you can imagine how Hillsboro coach Darrel Knoll analyzed his team’s early struggle in a hard-fought 56-44 win over Nickerson Friday night.
Because of last week’s ice storm, the Trojans didn’t play against El Dorado on Tuesday and, because classes were suspended, had practiced only one time in five days.
Nickerson, meanwhile, came in at 1-5 but had lost only one day of practice to the weather and played its first game of the new year the previous night.
The difference was evident.
“It showed in that they were a little sharper team in the first half than we were,” Knoll said.
Nickerson scored the first basket of the game and never trailed until Eric Weinbrenner’s 3-pointer midway through the opening period gave the Trojans an 11-9 lead. Patrick Harrison followed with a 3-pointer about 50 seconds later to boost the lead to 14-9.
But the Trojans were not out of woods. The Panthers scored six straight points in the final 2:20 to take a 15-14 lead at the first break.
Taking advantage of Trojan fouls and lack of execution on the offensive end, the Panthers built its largest lead at 27-18 with 2:37 left in the second period.
A traditional 3-point play by Derek Hamm at the 2:22 mark started the Trojans on an 8-3 surge that cut the deficit to 30-26 at the break.
The Trojans tied the game at 30 on a pair of baskets by Lucas Hamm during the first three minutes of the second half. But Nickerson scratched its way back to a 36-32 lead before an intentional foul called against Nickerson, coupled with a technical foul called on the Panther bench, ignited a 5-0 run that gave the Trojans a 37-36 lead.
“That was a tight time of the game and we were able to capitalizes on it,” Knoll said.
Jordan Marshall gave Nickerson its last lead with a basket at the 1:35 mark, but a 3-pointer from Weinbrenner and another basket by Lucas Hamm gave Hillsboro a 42-40 lead at the final break.
By that time, momentum had swung Hillsboro’s direction. Kyle Kroeker fanned the flames with a traditional 3-point play to open the final period. It ignited a 7-0 run that was capped with a steal and powerful dunk by Lucas Hamm with 5:01 to play to give Hillsboro a 49-40 advantage.
Hamm was called for a technical foul for pulling on the rim, and the Panthers picked up three points at the free-throw line as a result. But the Trojan sophomore hit two free throws of his own with 4:26 to play to give the Trojans a relatively safe 51-43 advantage.
The Trojans hit five of six free throws in the last 1:41 to nail down the victory. The Panthers, meanwhile, didn’t score a field goal the entire final period.
“I thought in the second half we played more like ourselves-a lot better on the offensive end in terms of getting things done the right way,” Knoll said. “Then defensively, we made better stops. It was just a tougher, sharper effort the second half.
“I was pleased that we played through the tough times, especially in the second quarter,” he added. “We could have very easily given it up big, but we were able to cut it down to four. We had a chance to cut it to less than that, but our spacing wasn’t good. That comes from not practicing.”
Weinbrenner led the Trojan attack with 20 points on 6-for-12 shooting from the floor and 6-for-7 shooting from the free-throw line.
Derek Hamm and Kroeker each added 9 points and Lucas Hamm 8.
As a team, the Trojans shot 44 percent from the floor-13-for-23 from 2-point range and 3-for-13 from behind the arc. Hillsboro made 21 of 26 free-throw attempts.
The Trojans committed only five turnovers while forcing 16 against the Panthers.
“I was happy that we showed good character again and played through the times when we just weren’t looking very good, and were able to win the ball game,” Knoll said.
“I thought we showed a good effort considering we didn’t practicing much.”
Coming-The Trojans were scheduled to play Hesston on Tuesday. Results of that game will appear in this week’s Free Press, which will be on newsstands lat Thursday afternoon.
On Friday, Hillsboro, which is 6-0 overall and 1-0 in league play,will take on a scrappy Lyons club that is 5-3 overall and 2-0 in league play.
Hillsboro’s Jan. 4 game against El Dorado has been rescheduled for Jan. 25.