ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
What a difference it makes when officials decide to take control of a game.
Even though Hillsboro’s 51-31 win Friday over Ellinwood turned into something of a foul-fest over the final three quarters, at least there were no fatalities.
During the first quarter, you weren’t sure there wouldn’t be.
The Trojans found themselves squaring off against an Ellinwood team that attempted to offset a lack of natural skills with a hit-’em hard hustle that sent bodies flying on both teams.
Lucas Hamm managed two baskets for Hillsboro in the first 1:30 of the game, but the Trojans, who were being hammered on both ends of the court, missed their next 13 shots and trailed 6-4 at the first break.
The most surprising statistic-given Ellinwood’s physical play- wasn’t the Trojans’ 3-for-16 shooting from the floor during the quarter as much as their 0-for-0 showing at the free-throw line.
Apparently, the officials decided to police the chaos in the second quarter and it made a huge difference. Over the next eight minutes, the Trojans shot 14 free-throws and made 11 to take a 22-15 lead at intermission.
Kyle Kroeker added back-to-back 3-pointers over a 25-second span midway through the period to give the Trojans a major boost and a 17-15 lead that they would not surrender the rest of the game.
“I was happy we were able to regain our composure in the second quarter,” coach Darrel Knoll said. “We made some plays, finally settled down and somehow scored 22 points in the half. It was looking pretty bleak for a while.
“We were rushing things a little bit, but once we settled down and started playing good basketball, we started making a few things happen.”
In the third quarter, the Trojans took firm control of the game. Although they missed four of six free throws in the final minute and seven of 15 for the quarter, Hillsboro outscored the home team 18-10 for a 40-25 lead at the last break.
“During the first part of the third quarter, I thought we really controlled the game and were ready go,” Knoll said.
After Lucas Hamm fouled out of the game less than a minute into the fourth period, Kroeker scored five of Hillsboro’s final 11 points. The Trojans’ 20-point lead at the buzzer was their largest of the night.
For the game, Ellinwood was whistled for 30 fouls while Hillsboro was called for 22. Two Eagles fouled out of the game and three players finished with four fouls.
Hamm was Hillsboro’s only casualty, although two other Trojans finished with four.
Kroeker paced the Trojan attack with 15 points. Wade Weibert added nine points, including seven of eight free throws.
Knoll played all 12 players on his team and got points from nine. Two of his reserves, Darren Enns and Tyler Kaufman, combined for 9-for-9 shooting at the line.
“That was really good,” Knoll said. “And I was proud of Wade for making his free throws, too.”
Brett Detter led the Eagles with 11 points. No one else scored more than six.
Neither team shot well from the field. Hillsboro got 12 of 44 shots (27 percent) to drop while Ellinwood made 10 of 42 (24 percent).
The biggest difference in the game came at the free-throw stripe, where the Trojans made 25 of 38 while the Eagles made 10 of 16.
Knoll was pleased with the win, but saw plenty of things to work on during the Christmas break.
“We’ve just got to continue to get smarter with the basketball and we have to make layups,” he said. “And some of us have to start making our free throws.”
The Trojans have built a 4-1 record following a shaky season-opening loss to Abilene.
“We just have to continue to search for the guys who are going to be consistently playing every night,” Knoll said. “Fortunately, we’ve had some guys step up in the past few games and make some plays when we needed it.”
Hillsboro will return to action Jan. 3 when the Trojans host El Dorado for the team’s home-court debut.