ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
It took awhile, but the Hillsboro High boys finally got even against the Halstead Dragons with an 50-38 victory Friday at Brown Gymnasium.
The win avenged a frustrating 47-44 non-league loss at Halstead in December, but also brought the Trojans’ season record back to an even 9-9-the first time the Trojans have not had a losing record since the season began.
“I think there was a lot of stuff there,” coach Darrel Knoll said about the game environment. “We felt like we needed to come out and get a win tonight against a team we should be able to beat.”
But the victory over the 6-13 Dragons was hardly automatic. The Trojans got off to a 4-0 start, but by the end of the opening quarter, the game was tied at 7.
With the score tied at 9, Gavin Serene and Lucas Hamm hit 3-pointers on either side of a basket by Halstead’s Justin Calvin to give Hillsboro a 15-11 lead.
The lead increased to 17-11 when Hamm scored again at the 3:32 mark. But when Calvin cashed in a rebounded shot at the halftime buzzer, Halstead was back to within two, 19-17.
Halstead enjoyed one last lead when Austin Ratzlaff sank a pair of free throws and Tyler Armendariz followed with a basket in the paint for a 29-28 edge with 1:14 left in the third quarter.
But sophomore Clay Shewey hit a 3-pointer from the left corner and Hamm rebounded and scored off his own missed shot with 19 seconds left to give the Trojans a 33-29 edge at the final break.
Two more baskets by Hamm and then a steal and a contested layup by Serene suddenly put the Trojans up by 10 points, 39-29, with 5:55 to play.
Halstead made a final run when Corey Wells and Taylor Glassco hit back-to-back 3-pointers to close the gap to 41-37 with 3:15 to go.
But the Trojans stepped up their defense, holding the Dragons to 0-for-10 shooting from the floor the rest of the way. On the offensive end, Hillsboro made eight of 12 free throws to nail down the 12-point victory.
Hillsboro shot 38 percent from the floor (16-42) while holding Halstead to 27 percent (10-37). The Trojans made 14 of 20 free throws-all shot in the second half. Halstead made 15 of 25.
In his final home appearance in an HHS uniform, Hamm led all scorers with 20 points and pulled down 12 rebounds for his second consecutive double-double.
“He had a real good game inside,” Knoll said. “He’s been our anchor all year, so I was really happy to see him have a great game to finish out his home career.
“But we had good contributions from everybody else, too, so I was really happy with the effort.”
Nickerson-For the second game in a row, the Hillsboro boys prevailed against a sub-.500 team on the strength of its defense.
The Trojans’ 39-27 victory at Nickerson (2-6, 7-10) on Tuesday was reminiscent of their 31-22 win four days earlier against Sterling-a strong defensive effort that gave the opponents few open looks, while missing opportunities on the offensive end to take control of the game.
On this night, a lot of those opportunities came at the free-throw line, where Hillsboro made 14 of 22 for the night, but only seven of 13 during the fourth quarter-including misses on the front end of two one-and-one opportunities.
“If we had just made some free throws down the stretch, I thought we could have put the game away at the line,” coach Darrel Knoll said.
To be fair, the Panthers struggled at the line, too, cashing in only five of 16 attempts for the game.
As a result, the game really turned on field-goal shooting, where the Trojans shot a respectable 43 percent (12-28) but the Panthers managed only 31 percent (11-26), including an 0-for-11 performance from behind the arc.
“I think both teams really get after it hard (on defense), and when that happens, it’s hard to get into an offensive rhythm,” Knoll said.
Hillsboro never trailed in the contest. The Trojans’ tepid 6-4 lead after one quarter grew to 20-8 by halftime as Gavin Serene, a 5-foot-3 sophomore, provided some spark off the bench with a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws.
The Trojans overcame six turnovers during the third period to maintain its 10-point lead at the end, 26-16.
The Panthers crept as close as 32-25 in the fourth quarter when Jordan Misunas made one of two free throws with 2:44 left. But the Panthers made only one of eight shots from the floor the rest of the way as the Trojans finished the game with a 7-2 surge.
Lucas Hamm was the only player for either team to break double figures in scoring, finishing with 12 points. He accomplished his sixth double-double performance of the season by pulling down 12 rebounds.
“I think he would feel like this was a frustrating double-double because they doubled him every time he got the ball,” Knoll said of his senior floor leader.
“I thought he played really strong and did a lot of good things for us.”
Coming-The Trojans (6-3, 9-9) are scheduled to complete their regular season this week. After a game at Lyons (2-7, 4-14) on Tuesday, Hillsboro travels to Lindsborg on Friday with the hope of avenging a December non-league loss to Smoky Valley (7-2, 13-5).
Next week, sub-state play is under way at Halstead. Hillsboro will join a challenging field that includes Southeast of Saline, Halstead, Hesston, Hutchinson Trinity, Lyons, Marion and Remington.
Seeding and first-round pairings will be posted on the Free Press Web site as soon as they become available, which probably will be Friday.