In a battle between two evenly matched teams, a few mistakes at critical times can mean the difference between victory and defeat. Despite playing arguably their best game of the season, the Hillsboro boys couldn?t quite close the deal as the Holcomb Long?horns pulled put a 66-60 win in the semifinals of the Trojan Classic on Friday night.
From the start, this game was like a championship fight between two determined boxers trading punches. Christian Ratzlaff hit two three-pointers in the final 43 seconds of the first quarter — the last shot with 1 second left — to tie the game at 14 at the end of the opening period.
History repeated itself in the second quarter when Ratzlaff drained a three from the wing with 1 second left to tie the game 30 heading into intermission. By halftime Ratzlaff had scored 13 points and Brett Weinbrenner 12 for the Trojans.
Already playing well, the determined Trojans elevated their game one more notch during the third quarter. Weinbrenner led the way, scoring the Trojans? first seven points to put Hillsboro ahead 37-33 at the 4:54 mark.
After Holcomb made a free throw, Jesse Brown scored in the paint on a great assist from Evan Ollen?burger, then Christian Ratzlaff added two buckets for a 43-36 lead. The Trojans bumped the lead to 10 point when Jordan Faul drained a three from the corner with 1:38 to go. A couple of Holcomb free throws with 1.7 seconds left in the period narrowed the margin to 48-40 at the final break.
The first 4:49 of the fourth quarter proved to be critical. The Trojans didn?t manage a field goal until Weinbrenner scored off a nice pass from Micah Allen with 3:21 to play. That pushed Hillsboro back into the lead at 52-50 after Holcomb rallied primarily from the free-throw line to tie the score.
A key point in the game came a few moments later when Hol?comb?s Dalton Gottschalk scored on a putback, then stole the ball from Ratzlaff and scored in a span of 13 seconds.
Ratzlaff countered with a basket off an inbounds pass near the Trojan basket. He was fouled on the play and added the free throw to tie the game at 58 with 1:07 to go.
With 59.5 seconds left, Gottschalk missed the front end of a one-and-one but Holcomb stole the rebound and scored for a 62-58 lead.
Weinbrenner cut the lead to two points by hitting a pair of free throws with 38.3 seconds to go. Holcomb?s Heath Tucker then drew a foul and made his first free throw. When he missed the second one, Hillsboro rebounded — and a long pass down court gave Jesse Brown an opportunity to score in the paint. But the shot didn?t drop.
Holcomb?s Conner VanCleave then hit one of two free throws with 14-7 seconds left to put the Longhorns ahead 64-60 with 14.7 seconds to go. Following a Hillsboro timeout with 9.8 second left, Ratzlaff took the inbounds pass and made a strong drive for the basket with the hope that the score would pull Hillsboro to within two points — with enough time left to call one last timeout. But Ratzlaff?s shot rimmed out. Holcomb rebounded, was fouled and sank two more free throws with 3.6 seconds left to put the game out of reach.
Weinbrenner finished a monster game with 29 points, making seven of 13 shots from the floor, including two of four three-pointers. He topped it off by draining 13 of 16 free-throw opportunities.
Ratzlaff was close behind with 21 points on 7-for-14 shooting from the floor, including three of four three-point attempts. He also made four of five free throws. For the game, the Trojans made 48 percent (18-40) of their shots, including 7-for-10 shooting from behind the arc. Faul nailed two of them in two attempts.
Trey Sleep led the Longhorns with 21 points, Gottshalk added 19 and Tucker 15. Holcomb shot 64 percent from the floor
The most significant statistical difference of the night may have been rebounding, where Holcomb held a 28-13 edge.
With the loss, the Trojans dropped to 10-2 for the season while Holcomb improved to 9-2. Hillsboro will set its sights on third place Saturday when they take on Wamego at 4 p.m. Holcomb will play Hesston for the title at 7:30 p.m.