Opening day at the Trojan Classic for the Hillsboro Trojan basketball teams started at Sunrise — Sunrise Academy, that is, on Tuesday night. And the two home teams experienced the their debut quite differently.
HHS GIRLS — The Hillsboro girls took control early in their game with strong defensive pressure that propelled them to a double-digit lead by halftime. But in the end the had to scrap to thwart a Buffalo charge and escape with a 49-45 win.
With Dakota Kaufman providing offensive fuel with eight points, the Trojans set the tone with a 14-6 first quarter lead. An 8-2 surge in final four minutes of the second quarter pushed the margin to 25-13 by intermission.
Hillsboro continued to keep the lead around double digits for most of the second quarter before Sunrise finished with a 6-2 push in the final minutes to cut the margin to 37-30 after three quarters.
Hillsboro pushed the lead back to double-digits through the first half of the final period, and led 46-35 when Candace Weinbrenner scored on a scoop layup with 4:14 to go. But Brianna McGuire, Sunrise?s post player, suddenly caught fire around the basket and scored all 10 points for the Buffaloes over the final 3:43. She had a team-high 18 for the game.
?Defensively, we started going away from some things,? coach Nathan Hiebert said. ?We were still aggressive in some areas but we were taking same gambles…that left the post open and they were getting some easier buckets that way. I didn?t think we executed as well on the defensive end.?
Meanwhile, over that same stretch, Hillsboro missed three straight one-and-one opportunities before making three of six free-throws in the last 1:25 to hold off the Sunrise rally and nail down the four-point win.
The game was statistically even in most categories. But Hillsboro?s 52 percent shooting (17-33) proved to be the difference compared to the Buffaloes? 41 percent (18-44) success.
Hiebert said winning a first-round game is critical in tournament play.
?It?s a huge mentality issue, that we know we?re where we need to be,? he said. ?If you go to the other side (of the bracket), it always feels like an uphill climb.?
The win, Hillsboro?s seventh straight after an 0-3 start to the season, advances the Trojans to the championship semifinals at 8:15 p.m. Thursday, where they will meet Hesston for the third time this season. The two teams split their previous encounters, both by single-digit margins.
?We?ve beaten Hesston once and the girls believe we should have beat them the first time too,? Hiebert said. ?So we?re excited for the opportunity to play them again.?
HHS BOYS — In the nightcap, the Trojan boys faced a physically and culturally diverse Buffalo squad that was seeded No. 1 with a 13-1 record. The record was understandable, given their advantages in height, agility and depth. On this night they prevailed 72-47.
Even so, the Trojans, 1-8 coming in, gave the Buffaloes everything they could handle in the first quarter. With Ben Bebermeyer hitting a pair of 3-pointers and scoring a total of nine points, the Trojans still were within challenging distance at 18-12 after one quarter.
But the Buffaloes took charge in the second period with a 27-point burst that put them on top 45-23 by halftime.
The Trojans never gave up the fight, but slowly drifted away from the Buffaloes in the second half, even as Sunrise coach Kyle Lindsted sent in his reserves for the second half of third and fourth quarters. When Matthew Fager scored with 4:24 left in the game to give Sunrise a 72-41 lead, the continuous clock rule kicked in.
Bebermeyer finished with 20 points on 7-for-14 shooting for one of his better games of the season. Jesse Allen added 10 points as the Trojans made 44 percent (18-34) of their field-goal attempts. Sunrise had three players in double-digits: Raphael Akepijiori, their 6-foot-9 post, led the way with 23; Leon Cooper (6-0), perhaps their most athletic player, added 18 points, including an ally-oop dunk in the third quarter; and Rendis Gzibovskis (6-8) came off the bench to add 10.
?I thought we fought really hard tonight,? coach Darrel Knoll said. ?In the first quarter we played tremendous. They just have a lot more weapons, and we didn?t have anybody to match them inside. They were physically bigger and stronger than us in the middle. Their guards were good, too.
?We just didn?t have the firepower to beat them tonight. You?ve got to make shots, and we didn?t always do that.?
The loss puts Hillsboro in the consolation semifinals at 6:30 p.m. against Marion, who lost by one point to Riley County earlier in the day.
(Free Press photos by Brad Wiseman)