ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
It was no lack of faith to say the Hillsboro girls needed a near-magical performance to beat state-ranked Hesston in Saturday’s sub-state finals.
Yes, the Trojans had won nine of their last 10 games and were playing their best basketball of the season. But this was still Hesston, a deep and talented team that had beaten the Trojans by 30 points in mid-January.
So, when Hillsboro’s Emily Ratzlaff nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key just 10 seconds into the contest, the Trojan faithful had every reason to hope this might be a night to remember.
Alas, those memories won’t be sweet, as Hesston showed why it is one of the top teams in Class 3A by posting a convincing 63-41 victory.
On a night when the Trojans needed to be hot shooters, they weren’t. And it was more than Hesston’s aggressive defense that caused them to shoot a chilly 28 percent (11-39) from the floor.
“We missed too many easy shots, that’s how I see it,” coach Becky Carlson said. “I don’t think it was their pressure as much as maybe we just felt a lot of (self-imposed) pressure. We had a lot of good looks, we just couldn’t get them to fall.”
Hillsboro did enjoy one last lead when JuliAnne Chisholm and Hannah Marsh, the Trojans’ top two point producers for the season, responded to Hesston’s run with a 2-pointer and 3-pointer, respectively, to give the Trojans an 8-7 lead with 4:09 left in the first quarter.
But Hillsboro went 0-for-4 from the field and 0-for-2 from the line during the rest of the quarter and found itself trailing the Swathers at the first break, 12-8.
The Trojans’ cold spell continued into the second period as they missed their first four shots from the floor as well as the front end of a one-and-one opportunity.
Meanwhile, Hesston’s Natalie Wheeler sandwiched a 3-pointer by Kristen Frey with a pair of buckets in the paint and Julia Carlton added a field goal to balloon Hesston’s advantage to 21-8.
A pair of free throws by Ratzlaff finally broke the run with 4:12 left in the half. At intermission, the margin was still in double digits at 28-16.
Twelve points is not an insurmountable lead, but already midway through the second period Marsh found herself in foul trouble for the second game in a row when the officials whistled her third infraction. Less than a minute into the third period, Marsh picked up her fourth foul and was back on the bench.
Meanwhile, Chisholm was struggling to hit the few open shots she was getting.
Ratzlaff stepped up with six points on a 2-pointer and four free throws, classmate Amy Duerksen nailed a 3-pointer from left corner and Megan Peachey hit one from the right wing for a 12-point burst.
Unfortunately, Hesston was scoring 11 points over the same span and still led by double digits at the final break, 42-28.
Marsh returned to the game to start the fourth quarter and showed signs of another late scoring burst by hitting a 3-pointer and 2-pointer in the first 1:09.
But the Trojans simply could not gain ground on Hesston, who got field goals from Lauren Raleigh, Wheeler, Frey and Kara Weaver to extend its lead to 50-33 with 6:17 to play.
By the time Marsh picked up her fifth foul at the 3:05 mark, the Trojans were beyond the realm of magic, trailing 54-36.
The Swathers’ 22-point margin at the end of the game was their largest of the night.
“They had a lot of weapons, and they really stepped up and made a lot of good shots,” Carlson said, acknowledging Hesston’s talent and effort. “And they scored a lot of points in the lane, which we didn’t want them to do.”
Wheeler scored most of her game-high 17 points in the lane. Frey finished with 15. As a team, Hesston shot 56 percent from the floor (25-45).
For Hillsboro, perhaps it was fitting that the team’s two senior starters, Ratzlaff and Duerksen, capped their careers as their team’s leading scorers with 11 and nine points, respectively.
Sophomores Marsh and Chisholm, who came in averaging 24 points between them, finished with eight and six points, respectively.
Carlson was disappointed in the game’s outcome, but not in the effort her team put forth.
“We tried, and gave it everything we had,” she said. “I don’t think we had a lot of turnovers. We just couldn’t get our shots to fall. And I didn’t think we took bad shots.
“It just wasn’t our night. We lost to a good team.”
The Trojans finished a successful season with a 15-8 record, winning nine of their last 11 games. The only losses during that stretch were to two state-ranked teams, Wichita Collegiate (22-1) and Hesston (20-3).
Semifinals vs. Lyons
Hannah Marsh came out of a foul-induced hibernation in the first half to score 16 second-half points and lead the Hillsboro girls to an impressive 55-42 sub-state semifinals win over Lyons on the Lions’ home court Thursday night.
The sophomore guard hit a 3-pointer at the 6:30 mark of the first quarter to give the Trojans a 7-2 lead, but picked up her second foul shortly thereafter and was pulled from the game.
Marsh returned to action midway into the second period but quickly picked up her third foul and found herself back on the bench.
“I told her at halftime, ‘You should be rested because you didn’t play many minutes,'” coach Becky Carlson joked. “She took care of the ball and made some great shots and great passes.”
Marsh hit a 3-pointer to start the Trojans’ third-quarter scoring and then finished the quarter with a traditional three-point play. She poured in 10 more points in the fourth quarter, including six in the final 46 seconds.
“She just stepped up,” Carlson said. “I was really pleased.”
Although Marsh’s second-half heroics was the most dramatic theme of this game, several sub-themes were important, too.
One occurred in the second period, when Marsh was sitting down with three fouls and teammate JuliAnne Chisholm was hobbled with two.
Hillsboro had managed a 14-11 lead by the end of the first quarter. After jumping to a 9-2 lead to start the game, the Trojans gave up a 9-0 run to fall behind, 11-9. In the final 30 seconds, Tina Frick hit a 5-foot jumper and Megan Peachey nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key to gave Hillsboro its lead.
But with the Trojans’ top two scorers slowed by fouls as the second quarter began, Carlson needed others to step into the gap.
Senior Amy Duerksen took her turn with a pair of buckets that gave Hillsboro an 18-13 lead at the 6:00 mark. Then Frick drained two more huge baskets in the paint to keep Hillsboro on top, 22-17, with 2:45 left.
When a Lyons basket cut the lead to three points, sophomore Lora Andrews, playing in only her sixth varsity game of the year, drove the baseline, was fouled and then hit one of two free-throws with 43 seconds left to give Hillsboro a 23-19 lead at intermission.
“When we got in foul trouble, those subs came in and stepped up,” Carlson said. “At one point I had a freshman (Audrey Weinbrenner) and two sophomores (Frick, Andrews) out there playing like they were seniors.”
Another important sub-theme was Hillsboro’s defensive effort against Lyons’ Andrea Leiker, the league’s top scorer at better than 20 points a game.
Led by senior Emily Ratzlaff, the Trojans held the normally dead-eye guard to 13 points on 5-for-13 shooting from the field-and no 3-pointers. Seven of Leiker’s points came in the final 3:33 of the game, when Hillsboro was already ahead by double digits.
“I thought Ratzlaff did a heck of a job guarding Leiker,” Carlson said.
Foul trouble helped. Leiker picked up her third foul only 1:33 into the second quarter and sat until halftime. She picked up her fourth foul with 1:51 left in the third quarter for another stretch on the bench.
Leiker finally fouled out with 12 seconds left in the game.
Chisholm’s second-half scoring wasn’t quite as dramatic as Marsh’s, but key nonetheless. Held to four points at halftime, the Trojans’ leading scorer cashed in 10 points in the second half, including six in the third quarter.
Marsh’s 19 points led all scorers. She made six of 10 shots from the field, including two of four from behind the arc, and was a perfect 5-for-5 from the free-throw line.
Chisholm added 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting and Duerksen 12 on 6-for-11 shooting.
“I thought Amy Duerksen really stepped up and had some big baskets for us,” Carlson said.
As a team, the Trojans made 22 of 50 field-goal attempts for 44 percent shooting. At the line, they drained eight of 10 free throws.
Eight of Hillsboro’s field goals came on assists from Ratzlaff. Marsh added four. The Trojans had 16 for the game.
Lyons, meanwhile, shot a comparable 19-for-46 (41 percent) from the field and made three of six free throws. Leiker’s 13 points took team honors. Jessica Steffan added 12 for the Lions, who finished 14-8.
Carlson was enthusiastic about the performance of her team, which improved to 15-7 for the season with its ninth win in the past 10 games.
“We’re a lot more mature team than we were when we played (Lyons) early in the year,” she said. “We’ve come a long way.
“For these seniors, it’s not been an easy road,” she added. “But they have never given up and have got themselves right where they want to be.”