ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The drought is finally over.
Fueled by its defense, the Hillsboro girls claimed a sub-state title and a berth at the Class 3A state tournament with a convincing 55-35 win over longtime nemesis Hesston on Saturday night.
The victory was the Trojans’ first over a Swather team since the 2001 sub-state finals, and earned HHS its first state appearance since that season.
This year’s squad had dropped a 44-41 decision to Hesston a month ago.
“It’s fantastic,” coach Dale Honeck said of the victory over the state-ranked and top-seeded Swathers. “We’ve worked so hard for this. The defense was the key. It really shut them down.”
Hillsboro broke a scoreless start when Tina Frick hit a 5-footer at the 5:45 mark. Fifteen seconds later, Julia Carlton tied the score for Hesston. But when Lora Andrews scored in the paint with 4:22 left in the quarter, the Trojans took the lead for good.
JuliAnne Chisholm added a layup off a steal 15 seconds later, Hannah Marsh completed a traditional three-point play and then Chisholm, Frick and Samantha Soyez each added a basket before Carlton ended Hillsboro’s 12-0 run with a 3-point basket with 1:24 left in the quarter.
Hesston’s Grace Easter made one of two free throws to cut Hillsboro’s lead to 14-6 at the first break.
Hesston continued its surge by scoring the first four points of the second quarter. But a stick-back by Chisholm after Dakota Kaufman missed a pair of free throws ignited an 11-3 Hillsboro run that pushed its lead back to 12 at 25-13 with three minutes left in the half.
Rachael Hageman’s 3-pointer brought Hesston to within nine points, but Chisholm countered with traditional three-point play off another stick-back.
Both teams added a late field goal to keep the margin at 12 points at halftime, 30-18.
During the first half, Hillsboro’s defense had hounded the Swathers unto 6-for-14 shooting from the floor. But Hesston had even less success from the one place on the court the Trojans couldn’t guard them-the free-throw line, where they made only four of 16 attempts.
If the Swathers struggled through the first two quarters, they broke down in the third. After Hesston scored three of the first five points to start the period, Hillsboro not only shut down the Swathers, but shut them out.
Meanwhile, the Trojans managed 10 unanswered points to build their lead to an astonishing 42-21 when Amy Neufeld scored at the buzzer.
Hesston closed the margin to 44-29 with 3:53 left in the final period, but Hillsboro settled the issue with an 11-6 surge down the stretch-capped by a 3-point bomb by Samantha Heinrichs in the final two seconds.
Augmenting the effectiveness of Hillsboro’s defensive play was Hesston’s uncharacteristic futility at the line. For the game, the Swathers made a paltry eight free throws in 24 attempts (33 percent) while sinking 12 of 33 shots from the floor (36 percent).
“They had trouble getting back into the game because they couldn’t score free throws,” Honeck said. “You’re sitting there 15 (points) up, but if they’re hitting their free throws, it’s a nine-point game. That makes a whole different scenario for that other team.”
Hillsboro wasn’t particularly effective at the line either, making 12 of 25 (48 percent), but did make 44 percent (21-46) of its shots from the field.
“We had a lead, but I never felt good about the offense the whole night,” Honeck said. “The reason we won the game is as simple as that-it was the defensive effort of the kids.”
Three Trojans finished with double-digit scoring, led by Chisholm with 16, including 12 in the first half. Frick added 11 and Andrews 10.
Whatever disappointment Honeck felt about his team’s performance on offense dissipated with the accomplishment of a 20-point victory in a sub-state championship game.
“I don’t care if it was the ugliest game we’ve ever seen-we won by 20 and we’re going to state,” he said. “Our defensive average is 37 (points), and we held them under that in a sub-state final.
“We came to play and we did.”
That Honeck, whose day job is being principal at HHS, agreed to fill the coaching vacancy in late summer after 15 years away from coaching made his team’s accomplishment all the sweeter.
“How much better could it be?” he asked. “This win meant so much to these girls and it means a lot to me, too.
“All the kids have done such a good job. If we lose (at state), fine. That’s a good place to end the year.”
Semifinals vs. Hutch Trinity
Hillsboro put the proverbial pedal to the metal from the start and never let up as the Trojans blitzed the Celtics, 58-39 in Thursday’s semifinals at Halstead.
“We did what we wanted to do -that is, full-court press, turn them over and keep running at them all night,” coach Dale Honeck said.
Hillsboro’s up-tempo pressure was relentless-and not always pretty, as the Trojans forced Trinity into 18 turnovers while committing 19 themselves.
But Hillsboro also harassed the Celtics into 28 percent field-goal shooting for the night (16-57).
The tone for the game was set early when, on its first possession, Trinity missed two shots and then committed a turnover.
JuliAnne Chisholm followed with a successful drive to the hole at the 7:27 mark, Hannah Marsh then drained a 3-pointer and Hillsboro was off to the races.
The Celtics remained in contention with a pair of baskets late in the period that brought them to within 13-9.
But Amy Neufeld, Samantha Soyez and Chisholm each scored unanswered baskets in the final minute to give Hillsboro a 19-9 margin at the first break.
Both teams struggled to score in the second quarter, combining for 6-for-29 shooting for the period. But four of those baskets belonged to Hillsboro and the Trojans took a 27-13 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The third quarter proved to be decisive, as the Trojans outscored the Celtics 17-9 to stretch their lead to 44-22 with one period to go.
Tina Frick scored eight of those points while Chisholm chipped in six.
Hillsboro’s lead grew as fat as 49-22 in the first minute of the fourth quarter before Trinity came back late against the Trojan reserves to trim it to 19.
“I thought the kids played well-I have no problem with it,” Honeck said about a game that turned ragged at points. “We’re not going to be perfect. We played hard.”
For the game, the Trojans canned half of their 54 shots from the floor while keeping the Celtics frustrated at the other end.
Trinity’s primary weapon, Cami Racette, scored a game-high 24 points-but on 9-for-25 shooting from the floor.
Chisholm led Hillsboro with 20 points.