Trojan boys fall to Halstead in sub-state finals

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
On some nights, the breaks just don’t go your way-even when you play hard. Unfortunately for the Hillsboro boys, that night came Saturday in the sub-state championship game at Hesston.

A conspiracy of foul trouble, sub-par shooting and a lights-out performance by a rival player combined to undermine the Trojans’ dream of a state-tournament berth with a 52-40 loss to Halstead.

The Trojans got off to a solid start with an 11-8 lead after one quarter. But even before the first buzzer sounded, the Trojans’ top three scorers-Kyle Kroeker, Lucas Hamm and Wade Weibert-had been relegated to the bench with two fouls each.

Coach Darrel Knoll decided to keep all three starters on the bench as long as he could into the second quarter. It appeared his strategy paid off big time as the Trojan defense stifled the Dragons well enough to take a 19-17 lead into the locker room at halftime.

“I thought if we could have converted a couple of different things, we could have had a little bigger lead at halftime,” Knoll said. “But I felt good coming out of the second half. I thought were well rested and ready to go.”

The X Factor turned out to be Halstead’s Justin Regehr, whose 3-pointer with five seconds left in the first half had pulled the Dragons to within two points.

Through the first 5:30 of the third quarter, the 6-foot-2 senior took over the game, scoring 11 points on 4-for-4 shooting from the floor, including a 3-pointer and two free throws that put his team on top 30-24.

Meanwhile, Hamm quickly was whistled for two more fouls, including a questionable touch foul near half court that put him back on the bench with four.

Kroeker made the only basket either team scored the rest of the period to cut the deficit to 30-26 at the final break.

Trojans fans who were hoping Regehr had cooled off after he missed the last two shots he took in the third quarter were disappointed. But with freshman Daniel Jost hounding him, most of Regehr’s damage came at the free-throw line, where he made seven of eight attempts in the final period.

Regehr made one of only two field-goal attempts during that span, but finished with 30 points for the night.

“He did a nice job, especially the second half,” Knoll said of Regehr. “What can I say? He played great.”

Regehr’s performance was reminiscient of the 30-point outburst from teammate Austin Ratzlaff in Halstead’s 58-44 win over Hillsboro in late January.

Even so, the Trojans might have overcome all of that adversity if their shooting eye had been a little sharper in the second half, especially during the fourth quarter.

From the field, Hillsboro made only four of 13 shots during the final period. But the Trojans were particularly suspect at the free-throw line, where they cashed in only five of 11 opportunities, including misses on the front end of two one-and-ones.

For the game, the Trojans missed nine of 15 free throws.

“If we had made some free throws, we wouldn’t have had to do some of the stuff we did at the end to try to catch up,” Knoll said. “That’s really when the margin spread.”

Foul trouble limited Hamm to four points and 12:44 of playing time before the junior fouled out with 5:51 left in the game and Hillsboro trailing by two points.

Kroeker eventually fouled out, too, but by then the outcome had been determined.

“The difference in the game tonight is that their two best players (Regehr and Ratzlaff) got to be on the floor and ours had to sit,” Knoll said.

The threesome of Kroeker, Hamm and Weibert combined for only 16 points after coming in averaging 35.

One bright spot for Hillsboro was the play of Troy Frick, who filled Hamm’s role as the Trojans’ inside/outside threat with eight points in the fourth quarter and a team-high 10 for the game. He also contributed a team-high five assists.

Although Knoll and his players keenly felt the disappointment of coming up short of their state goals, the 18-year Trojan coach put his team’s performance in perspective.

“I’m proud of how hard the guys played tonight,” Knoll said. “They left it all out on the court. It wasn’t like we folded or didn’t try our best. We just had trouble putting the ball into the basket.”

Knoll said the strong effort typified his squad’s commitment all season, despite some ups and downs on the way to a 16-7 record.

“I’m proud of how hard the guys played this year,” he said. “I thought I got out of them everything I could get out of them. Some nights we shot well and some nights we didn’t. This was one of those night we just didn’t get the ball in the basket.”

Hillsboro 72, Osage City 64

Sub-state semifinals

Hillsboro got star-quality scoring from mainstays Kyle Kroeker and Lucas Hamm, but the production of normally low-scoring Troy Frick and Macy Fadenrecht gave the Trojans a huge lift Thursday in their win over Osage City.

Kroeker tossed in a team-high 20 points and Hamm added 17. But 11 points from Frick, in his second straight starting role, and nine from Fadenrecht were big, too. The pair came in averaging 1.9 and 4.0 points, respectively.

In the early going, it seemed Hillsboro’s usual heroes would carry the day as the Trojans rolled to a 19-7 lead after one quarter. Kroeker accounted for seven of those points-including two layups off of steals-while Hamm added six points and Wade Weibert five.

The Trojans saw the lead shrivel to nine points by halftime, 31-22, thanks to six turnovers and 4-for-12 shooting.

But Hillsboro’s challenges were only beginning as the Indians fired up the long-range arsenal toward the end of the third quarter.

Matt Ginzel hit the first 3-pointer at the 3:26 mark and Jonathan King followed with three in a row, including one at the buzzer that brought Osage City to within two points, 49-47.

Two baskets by Fadenrecht were the only points Hillsboro scored through the first four minutes of the period.

After the Trojans missed a pair of free throws and a field goal to start the fourth quarter, Ginzel brought a rowdy tribe of Indian fans to its feet when he drained another 3-pointer to give his team its first lead at 50-49.

Two free throws by Fadenrecht temporarily gave the lead back to Hillsboro. After King scored, traditional three-point plays by Hamm and Frick sandwiched a long-range trey by Ginzel to give the Trojans a 57-55 edge.

After Indian senior Robert Brenner missed a pair of free throws, Trojan freshman Daniel Jost made a pair with 4:40 left to give Hillsboro a 59-55 advantage.

Baskets by King and Brenner tied the game one last time before Fadenrecht sank one of two free throws, then followed with a 10-foot runner to give the Trojans a 62-59 lead with 2:35 left.

Then Hillsboro lowered the boom. Baskets in the paint by Hamm, Kroeker and Jost, who scored on a fastbreak after a Trojan defensive rebound, put Hillsboro in control at 68-60 with 48 seconds to go.

King drained one more 3-pointer-the Indians’ seventh of the half and eighth of the game-but it was not nearly enough. Frick scored four points in the last 14 seconds of the contest to ice Hillsboro’s berth in the tournament finals.

The Trojans finished with 52 percent (25-48) shooting for the game and held the Indians to 41 percent (24-58). Osage City made eight of 18 3-point attempts.

King tallied a game-high 22 points, including four treys. Ginzel had the other four 3-pointers and finished with 14 points. Nick Stoppel added 10 for the second-seeded Indians, who finished the season 15-7.

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