Standing on the precipice of an early exit from the Class 3A state tournament Wednesday night, Hillsboro simply refused to let its season end. A 23-12 fourth-quarter surge carried the Trojans to a 53-45 win over Holcomb in the quarterfinals at the Hutchinson Sports Arena.
Hillsboro trailed for most of the game. Maci Schlehuber hit the first basket of the night on a layup off the tipoff. But Holcomb?s long-range shooting — three three-point baskets in the first quarter and two more in the second quarter — lifted the Longhorns to a 16-12 lead after one quarter and a 24-22 lead at intermission.
Hillsboro tied the game on a Schlehuber basket to start the third quarter, but Holcomb scored the next seven points, capped by a three-pointer from the wing from Kylee Amos at the 5:33 mark.
For the rest of the quarter, the Trojans limited the Longhorns to two free throws, while Maddi Duerksen and Alex Ratzlaff came off the bench to hit a couple of big shots and Danae Bina added a fast-break layup with 42.7 seconds left in the period to enable the Trojans to cut the lead to 33-30 as the quarter ended.
Senior Tena Loewen, who struggled somewhat in the first half, stepped up big time down the stretch for Hillsboro by cashing in 10 of 10 free throws in the final period.
Loewen hit the first two 47 seconds into the quarter, Bina added a traditional three-point play and Addie Lackey hit a huge three-point shot from the corner at the 5:30 mark to propel the Trojans from a three-point deficit to a 38-33 lead — with momentum clearly shifting their direction.
As a team, Hillsboro made 14 of 16 free throws in the final quarter to build easily its largest lead of the night as the game ended. Ironically, the Trojans hadn’t shot a single free throw through the first three quarters. Meanwhile, the defense forced three turnovers and limited the Longhorns to 4-for-9 shooting down the home stretch.
Loewen led Hillsboro with 14 points and pulled down a game-high nine rebounds. Lackey was right behind with 13 points and contributed four assists. Bina, hindered in the first half by fouls, added 10 points with three assists.
As a team, Hillsboro shot 50 percent from the floor (19-38) while Holcomb shot 40.5 percent (15-37), including seven of 17 three-point shots. Guards Kaitlyn Pfeifer and Taylor Deniston tied Loewen for game scoring honors with 14 points each, including a combined 6-for-13 shooting from three-point land.
Hillsboro, the fourth seed at state, improved its record to 22-2 for the year while Holcomb, the No. 5 seed, ended its season at 19-5. The Trojan will take on top-seeded and undefeated Burlington (24-0) in the semifinals at 6:30 p.m. Friday. Burlington defeated Sabetha 48-46 in their first-round matchup.