ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The Kansas Jayhawks weren’t the only team to learn this weekend that long winning streaks can end.
A talented Lyons squad soundly defeated second-ranked Hillsboro, 61-44, Friday in Lyons, establishing itself as the team to beat in the Mid-Central Activities Association.
To Coach Darrel Knoll’s recollection, it was the first Lyons win in his 17-plus years at the Trojan helm.
Except for the margin, Lyons’s victory was no upset. Most of the five senior starters for Lyons had been playing varsity together for the past three years and had posted an 8-1 mark coming into Friday’s game.
“I know it meant a lot to them,” Knoll said. “I think they thought they finally had a real shot at us, and they came out and played that way. We didn’t match that intensity level to start the game.”
Indeed, the first half all but determined the game’s outcome as the Lions’ three-guard combo of Blaine Clark, Cameron Simms and Kevin Sechrist fueled a 42-22 lead by halftime.
Wade Weibert scored the first basket of the game to give the Trojans their only lead. But Lyons followed with a 15-1 run over the next five minutes that knocked the Trojans on their heels.
As if the Lions needed more momentum, a half-court 3-pointer at the buzzer by Bierbele had the Lyons crowd roaring with a 21-10 lead at the first break.
“We just didn’t come out to play in the first part of (the game), and they jumped on us,” Knoll said.
The blitz continued into the second quarter. An 8-0 run that started with 1:29 left in the second quarter boosted Lyons’s lead to 42-20, but Tim Funk scored in the paint with two seconds left to cut the margin to 20 points at intermission.
“It was big that I took a couple of guys out right at the end of the second quarter, and it was like 10 points that we just gave away,” Knoll said.
“There’s a major difference between a 20-point halftime deficit and a 14-point halftime deficit. That was needless. We’ve got to learn from that.”
The third quarter started ominously, too, when Hillsboro missed its first two shots and Clark drained a 3-pointer from the right wing to give the Lions their biggest lead of the night at 45-22.
But Macy Fadenrecht responded with a 3-pointer that started Hillsboro on a slow but steady climb back into contention.
When Lucas Hamm scored back-to-back buckets late in the period, the Trojans were back to within 14 at 49-35. Keegan Wiens scored in the paint to push Lyons’s lead back to 16 at the last break.
The Trojans started a final run midway through the fourth quarter when Kyle Kroeker followed a 2-point basket with an old-fashioned 3-point play that cut Lyons’s lead to 54-45.
Kroeker followed that with a 3-pointer from behind the arc with 1:18 left to bring the Trojans to within eight points at 56-48.
But the veteran Lions didn’t flinch. Instead, they made 10 of 11 free throws over the final 1:29 to thwart the Trojan comeback.
Key to Hillsboro’s second-half rally was better defensive intensity that cooled Lyons’s 59 percent (12-22) shooting in the first to 26 percent (5-19) in the second one.
“I was proud of their second half,” Knoll said of his players. “We did give ourselves a chance. We competed like we should have competed the whole game.
“Sometimes it takes a loss to really make that stick.”
Clark led Lyons with 21 points, Sechrist added 15 and Simms 14.
The Trojans, meanwhile, never really caught fire on offense, shooting a moderate 38 percent in the first half and 41 percent in the second half.
The most telling statistic of the night was free-throw shooting. Lyons made 23 of 28 while Hillsboro made four of only seven opportunities.
Kroeker finished as high-point man with 16 points while Hamm was right behind with 14.
The loss drops Hillsboro to 7-2 overall and 1-1 in the MCAA while Lyons improved to 9-1 and 4-0.
Coming-One week after taking a 58-37 decision from Hesston, Hillsboro was scheduled to play the Swathers again at Brown Gymnasium to kick off Trojan Classic play. A full report of that game will appear in this week’s Free Press Extra.
If the Trojans defeated the Swathers again, they will take on the winner of Belleville vs. Marion at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the semifinals.
If Hesston prevailed, Hillsboro will play the loser of Belleville-Marion at 7:30 p.m., Thursday in consolation play.