Poor start dooms HHS versus Garden Plain in state opener

Like a thoroughbred that stumbles out of the gate in a big race, a bad start by the Hillsboro girls ended up costing the Trojans a chance to run for the roses. Garden Plain defeated Hillsboro 55-47 in the first round of the Class 3A state tournament Thursday in Hutchinson.

The Owls hit six of their first eight shots while Hillsboro missed five straight and turned the ball over five times over the same stretch. Garden Plain built the lead to 12-0 before senior Candace Weinbrenner broke the ice with a 15-foot jumper at the 3:51 mark.

That turned out to be Hillsboro?s only field goal of the first period. The Trojans did make three of four free throws, but Garden Plain held a commanding 16-5 lead at the first break.

?We didn?t execute our game plan early on,? coach Nathan Hiebert said afterward. ?(The Owls) ran nothing that we didn?t run in practice. We just thought because we knew it, it would just happen.?

The Trojans started the difficult climb back into contention with five straight points to start the second quarter, thanks to a basket by Franny Gottsch on an inbounds play, two free throws by Dakota Kaufman — her first points of the game — and one of two charities by Tena Loewen.

Both two teams stepped up their production over the last 5:38 of the period with 11 points a piece, giving Garden Plain a 34-23 margin at intermission.

For the first half, Garden Plain shot 67 percent (14-21) from the floor while the Trojans improved to nearly 35 percent (8-23) after a 1-for-11 first quarter.

Production fell off dramatically for both teams to start the third period, but Hillsboro managed to piece together a 7-0 run to pull within 34-30 when Kaufman hit a pair of free throws at the 2:49 mark. But a big 3-pointer from the wing by Ann Pauly with 39 second left in the period helped Garden Plain bumped its lead back to 39-32 by the time it ended. Hillsboro held the Owls to 1-for-9 shooting, which helped the cause.

?I thought we started wearing them down, started playing better,? Hiebert said. ?In the second half their shots weren?t going down as easily, they got into some foul trouble, and that helped us.?

The Trojans started the fourth quarter with a final charge. Garden Plain scored the first points on a basket by Mackenzie Fisher, but 25 seconds later Callie Serene lit a Trojan fuse with a 3-pointer from the wing at the 7:20 mark. Allie Faul followed with a 17-foot 2-pointer, Weinbrenner nailed another 15-footer and Tena Loewen bagged a couple of free throws to pull the Trojans into a 41-41 tie with 5:43 to play.

But the effort it took to catch up seemed to drain Hillsboro’s tank for the home stretch. The Trojans missed their next four field goal attempts as well as a pair of free throws, which enabled Garden Plain to increase its lead to six points again on a pair of field goals and a pair of free throws.

Gottsch, who contributed the two missed charities, redeemed herself by making two with 2:42 to go. But a put-back by Jordan Hoheisel with 2:14 left put the Trojans in a position where they needed to foul to get the ball back. The Owls made six of eight free throws in the last 1:43 to seal an eight-point victory after the early 12-0 start.

?It wasn?t just a small deficit — we?re in the state tournament,? Hiebert said. ?With the defense we?ve been playing, that first quarter was the killer. After that, I thought we played good basketball.

?You can?t spot a good team like that, that many points,? he added. ?We gave ourselves a chance, though, which I?m proud of. It just takes a lot of energy to get back into a game like that.?

Kaufman capped a tremendous senior season and Trojan career with 11 points, seven below her average. She got needed scoring support from Weinbrenner and Loewen with 10 each.

The Trojans finished with nearly 39 percent shooting for the game (15-39) and Garden Plain 46 percent (19-41). Hillsboro actually outrebounded the Owls, 29-23, but also committed more turnovers, 18-12, giving the Owls a 20-8 advantage in points off those mistakes.

With the loss, the Trojans finished the year with a quality 18-6 record, but came short of reaching their goal of moving beyond the first-round of state.

?It was a great season,? Hiebert said. ?I?m very proud of the girls. It?s been one of the most enjoyable seasons I?ve had. These girls worked hard. They did a fantastic job of just buying in to what we wanted to do.?

Garden Plain improved to 19-5 and will play the No. 1 seed, Thomas More Prep in the semifinals at 6:30 Friday.

(Free Press photos by Don Ratzlaff)

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