It was the kind of game you?d expect from two elite teams in the Mid-Central Activities Association — hard-fought and close. But when the dust cleared, the Hillsboro Trojans prevailed before a raucous home-town crowd in Marion, 55-47.
In the end it was the Trojans? focus at the free-throw line that paved the way to victory and kept the Trojans undefeated in the MCAA at 10-0 (15-4 overall), while Marion slipped to 7-3 (13-5 overall).
Through three quarters of basketball Hillsboro made only two of nine free throws, but in the final quarter, and with the game on the line, the Trojans canned 17 of 20.
The intensity was strong from the start, especially on the defensive end. Hillsboro led 8-3 after one quarter, but made only four of 12 shots and turned the ball over seven times. Marion managed only one basket in nine attempts and committed nine turnovers.
In the second quarter, Marion, who was missing senior Kayley Heerey because of an ankle injury, claimed the momentum with five players chipping in points. Julia Zeiner?s 3-pointer from the wing with 8.5 seconds left in the half gave Marion a 19-15 lead as both teams retreated to the locker room.
Marion pushed the lead to six when Donna Cady scored the first basket of the third period, buts six straight point by Hillsboro — including a big 3-pointer from the wing by Allie Faul — tied the game. After that, the scoring went back and forth before Marion ended on the high side of the seesaw, 30-29, as the quarter ended.
Hillsboro slipped into the driver?s seat with a 7-2 run through the first two minutes of the fourth quarter to lead by four, 36-32. After Lindsay Hett scored in the paint for Marion, Faul hit a second 3-pointer at the 5:14 mark to boost Hillsboro?s lead to five. It turned out to be the last field Hillsboro made — or needed, thanks to gutsy free-throw shooting — until Dakota Kaufman scored in the paint with 32 seconds to play to make the score 50-45.
The teams played to a statistical dead heat, with no commanding difference in shooting accuracy (HHS 40 percent, MHS 36 percent), rebounding (HHS 32, MHS 31) or turnovers (HHS 16, Marion 17).
Kaufman finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds to lead Hillsboro, despite several stretches on the bench due to foul trouble. Faul?s 14 points were critical to fill the void. Freshman Tena Loewen was 0-for-4 from the floor, but her 7-for-8 shooting from the line — all in the fourth quarter — was huge.
For Marion, Zeiner was a force to be reckoned with, finishing with a game-high 19 points. After some early foul trouble that limited her time in the first half, Lindsay Hett scored all 14 of her points in the second half to help keep the Warriors in the game.
Hillsboro?s victory sets up a winner-take-all finale to league play when 10-0 Hillsboro meets 10-0 Wichita Collegiate on Tuesday at Brown Gymnasium in Hillsboro. The Trojans, who began their regular season against the Spartans (a 70-37 loss) will also end the regular season against them.
High-intensity basketball continued into the boys? game, although with considerably less on the line in terms of league standings. This time payback proved to be motivation enough as Marion prevailed, 57-49, avenging a 48-47 loss to the Trojans during the Trojan Classic in January.
The loss bumped Marion?s record to 3-7 in the league, 6-12 overall, while Hillsboro slipped to 0-10 and 2-17.
Marion took an early 6-0 lead when Eric Vogel scored one basket and Isaac Hett added two through nearly 4:00 minutes of action. Hillsboro then rattled off six unanswered points — four by Jesse Allen and two by Caleb Hilliard — to tie the game. Wil Case?s free throw with 18.2 on the clock gave Marion a 9-8 lead at the first break. With Case, Hett and Eric Vogel providing the points, Marion claimed a 26-19 lead at intermission.
The two teams battled to a near standoff the rest of the way. Marion built its largest lead at 52-39 when Jordan Versch sank a pair of free throws with 1:57 left in the fourth quarter before Hillsboro closed the final margin to eight points, with Allen providing six of them.
Marion shot a blistering 61 percent (22-36) for the game, a reflection on their good outside shooting (3-for-6 behind the arc), but also their ability to slice through th Hillsboro defense for lay-ins.
The trio of Case, Vogel and Hett combined to outscore the Trojans, 52-49. Case and Vogel shared scoring honors with 18 points and Hett was right behind with 16. Allen finished with 18 points for Hillsboro on 7-for-11 shooting from the floor, mostly in the paint.
(Free Press photos by Don Ratzlaff)