Hillsboro hoops teams open season with a sweep of Nickerson

Two Hillsboro basketball teams that began the season with a lot of question marks ended Friday night with exclamation points as the Trojans swept Nickerson in the season opener at Brown Gymnasium. The girls led from start to finish for a 61-35 victory while the Trojan boys overcame a nine-point second-half deficit to defeat the Panthers in double overtime, 73-61, behind Micah Allen?s 35 points.

GIRLS — Junior Alex Ratzlaff, one of two returning starters from a year ago, fueled the Trojans to the win with a career-high scoring performance — nearly matching the entire output of the visiting team in the process.

Ratzlaff scored 14 of Hillsboro?s points in the first quarter as the Trojans rolled to a 19-4 lead by the time it ended. By halftime, Hillsboro bumped the margin to 17 points with a 33-15 lead.

The Trojans were never in danger in the second half, and led by as much a 41-18 in the third quarter when freshman Abby Sechrist scored her first career point in high school on a free throw at the 4:05 mark. By the end of the third quarter, Hillsboro led, 44-25.

Coach Nathan Hiebert cleared his bench when the Trojans pushed their margin to 53-30 with 5:02 left in the game.

Ratzlaff made 11 of 26 shots from the floor, including a pair of three pointers, then added eight points on 10 free-throw attempts. Allison Weber scored eight points, Mesa Merrell seven and Brooklyn Wiens six on a pair of three-pointers. For the game the Trojans 30 percent from the floor.

On defense, Hillsboro limited Nickerson to 23 percent shooting from the floor on only 43 attempts. The Trojans? defense contributed to 32 Nickerson turnovers.

BOYS — The Hillsboro boys started the game strong, struggled through the middle two quarters, regrouped in the fourth quarter then played their best basketball of the night during the two overtimes.

With Micah Allen scoring every point, the Trojans jumped to a 9-0 lead three minutes into the contest. The Panthers finally managed to score at the 4:46 mark, then again with 19 seconds left in the quarter to find themselves trailing 11-4 at the first break.

The Panthers picked up their full-court preassure early in the second period and scored six unanswered points on three Trojan turnovers to pull within 14-12. Nickerson then tied the game at 17 on a three-pointer by Jordan Lehman with 4:15 left in the half and built a 29-25 lead by halftime.

When Josh Funk scored on a rebound 30 seconds into the third quarter, Hillsboro was within two points — but the Trojans didn?t score another field goal until Micah Allen scored with 1:19 left in the period, pulling the Trojans to within seven at 42-35. Nickerson led at the end of the quarter, 44-38.

The game looked in doubt when Ben Berridge scored for Nickerson to give his team a 46-39 lead. But when Allen canned a 10-footer at the 4:53 mark, the Trojans began to come together. Austin Cross hit a free throw, Allen sank a deep three and Cross scored an old-fashioned three-point play to pull Hillsboro into a 48-48 tie midway through the period.

Nickerson managed a 52-50 lead with just under 3 minutes to play, but neither team managed another score in regulation until David Dick tied the game with a layup on a feed from Allen. The fourth quarter ended with a 52-52 tie.

Nickerson grabbed the momentum early in the first extra period with two free-throws and three-point basket in the first 45 seconds. Allen responded with three-pointer at the 2:43 mark to cut the lead two. Once again, neither team scored again until Allen sank a pair of pressure free-throws with 11.8 seconds left. A last-second shot by Nickerson missed the mark and set up the second overtime period.

This one belonged entirely to the Trojans. Preston Loewen hit a three-pointer 12 seconds in to set the tone. Allen added a pair of baskets, then Loewen hit four straight consecutive free-throws. When Cross scored with 1:50 to play, Hillsboro led 70-61 and cruised to the 12-point victory.

Loewen, playing in his varsity game, ended up with 11 points to finish as second-high scorer. Allen scored his 35 points on 11-for-22 shooting from the floor, including three of five three-pointers. He made 10 of 17 free-throws. As a team the Trojans shot just under 44 percent for the night (21-48). Hillsboro forced 18 Panther turnovers but committed 24.

Hillsboro will play next week at the Moundridge tournament with games on Tuesday against Lyons (girls at 4 p.m., boys at 5:30), Thursday against Inman (girls at 4 p.m., boys at 5:30) and Friday against Moundridge (girls at 7 p.m., boys at 8:30).

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