ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The Hillsboro High girls teased the Halstead Dragons with the prospect of an upset through the opening quarter of play Friday night, but then lowered the boom in dramatic fashion en route to a 54-21 thumping during the Trojans’ regular-season finale at Brown Gymnasium.
Following a Senior Night salute prior to the contest, the Trojans came out misfiring, managing only two baskets in 11 attempts during the first quarter.
Even so, the Trojans led the Dragons 4-0 through the first 4:40 before Alexi Bohling put Halstead on the scoreboard.
With the Trojans missing shots on their end, Megan McCall added a basket and Bohling tossed in a pair of free throws with 10 seconds left to give Halstead a 6-4 lead at the first break.
But the prospect of the Dragons prevailing on this night proved to be a fairy tale. After two more Trojan misses to start the second quarter, JuliAnne Chisholm’s basket at the 7:05 mark ignited a 21-6 burst that all but extinguished the Dragons’ hopes.
Chisholm and Hannah Marsh both contributed six points in the run while sophomore Kassidi Luthi came off the bench to score back-to-back baskets midway through to give Hillsboro a welcomed lift.
Leading 25-12 at intermission, the Trojans might have been forgiven if their intensity lessened in the second half. But that was hardly the scenario.
Instead, Hillsboro hit six of its first seven shots in the third quarter while forcing five Halstead turnovers and one missed shot over the same period to take a 38-12 lead with 5:21 left in the quarter.
After a two-minute lull in the bombardment, Samantha Soyez drained a 3-pointer from the right corner to continue what turned out to be a 23-1 domination that gave the Trojans a 48-13 cushion when the period finally ended.
Hillsboro made nine of 12 shots during the period, including a pair of 3-pointers. Meanwhile, the Dragons misfired on all nine of its field-goal attempts and five of its six free-throw opportunities while committing seven turnovers.
Because the lead had reached 30 points heading into the fourth quarter, the game ended with a continuous clock. Halstead showed signs of life in the final five minutes by scoring four baskets against the Trojan reserves.
For the game, Hillsboro made just under 50 percent of its shots (22-45) and six of eight free throws. Meanwhile, the Dragons managed only eight baskets in 31 attempts (26 percent) and made four of 10 free throws.
It was appropriate on Senior Night that four Trojans seniors shared game scoring honors. Marsh, Chisholm, Lora Andrews and Tina Frick each finished with eight points. Fellow senior Megan McCarty chipped in with a free throw.
Bohling scored eight points to lead Halstead.
Nickerson-Hillsboro girls got out of the blocks well at the start and never really were threatened on the way to a 59-41 win at Nickerson on Tuesday.
Tina Frick got Hillsboro started with a basket 45 seconds into the game; when Lora Andrews scored with 2:46 left in quarter, the Trojans were ahead 15-2. JuliAnne Chisholm scored six of her game-high 23 points during the run.
Despite committing six turnovers in the final 5:00 of the quarter, Hillsboro led 18-6 at the first break, then expanded the margin to 34-19 by intermission on 7-for-10 shooting from the floor. Five players contributed points, led by Chisholm’s seven.
The Trojan senior capped her scoring contributions by tossing in 10 points during the third period as Hillsboro built a 49-32 lead by the final break.
Even with coach Dale Honeck substituting freely throughout the fourth quarter, the Trojans outscored the home team 10-9 down the home stretch.
Honeck said he was surprised the victory came as easily as it did. Hillsboro won their matchup in December by 10 points; since then the Panthers (2-6, 7-10) have picked up some quality wins.
“We did get off to a good start,” he said. “Juli was really scoring easily through most of the game. They didn’t have a good stop for her.
“We got a lot of kids to play tonight and that was good.”
For the game, Hillsboro shot just under 50 percent from the floor (24-49) and made seven of nine free throws.
Meanwhile, after a slow shooting start, the Panthers finished at 44 percent (18-41) and made five of nine free throws.
Coming-Hillsboro (8-1, 15-3) can claim at least a share of the league title if they sweep their final two games of the regular season this week. Hesston also is 8-1 in the league.
After a game at Lyons (4-5, 7-11) on Tuesday, Hillsboro will take on Smoky Valley (7-2, 12-6) Friday at Lindsborg.
Next week, Hillsboro will join a challenging sub-state tournament field at Halstead 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.