An 8-3 surge over the last half of the third quarter proved to be pivotal as Hillsboro opened the Class 3A state tournament Wednesday with a 40-32 win over Osage City in the Hutchinson Sports Arena.
The win was a significant accomplishment for the young Trojans, who had been bounced from the tournament in the first round the previous two years under coach Nathan Hiebert.
Key to the victory was Hillsboro?s tenacious defense against a team that had a significant height advantage. The Indians? 6-foot-1 Carly Spicer and 5-foot-11 Taylor Kimball, who combined for 21 points for the game. But the Trojan guards continually harassed their Indian counterparts from start to finish, making it difficult for them to set up their offense and contributing to 16 turnovers.
The Trojans got off to a slow start on the offensive end. Spicer scored Osage City?s first eight points through the first six minutes while the Trojans missed six of their first eight shots. The Indians led as much as 11-6 before Courtney Weber hit a 12-foot jumper with five seconds left in the quarter to narrow the gap to three at the break.
Hillsboro bumped up its defense one more notch in the second period, allowing the Indians only one field goal for the entire quarter. Meanwhile, the Trojans burned the nets three straight three-pointers at the start of the period — two by Allie Faul and a third by Callie Serene — in the first 2:07. Addie Lackey followed with a drive and basket at the 5:03 mark to go give Hillsboro a 19-13 lead. Faul pushed the lead to 20-13 with 1:36 left in the half before Kimball sank four straight free throws to narrow the margin to 20-17 at intermission.
Hillsboro started slowly in the third period. After Faul made one of two free throws, Diedra Jones and Spicer each scored two points as Osage City pulled into a 21-21 tie with 5:20 left in the quarter.
Tena Loewen then ignited the pivotal 10-5 surge with a pair of baskets that carried HHS to a 31-26 lead at the final break. Weber, Lackey and Faul each contributed two points to what proved to be the turning point of the contest.
With the score 31-28, Faul left the game with a leg contusion when she ran hard into a set screen at the 5:58 mark. But the Trojans responded well to the absence of their senior floor leader. Her successor, Stephanie Sanders, came off the bench to hit a two-point basket at the 4:07 mark than drained a huge three with 2:28 to play to push Hillsboro?s margin to 37-30.
The Indians managed only two free throws the rest of the way as Hillsboro cashed in some fouls with 3-for-5 shooting from the free-throw line in the final 49 seconds. Prior to that, they made only seven of 12 charities.
Even with her early departure, Faul led HHS with 10 points while Loewen added nine. As a team, the Trojans made 13 of 31 shots (42 percent) from the floor while limiting the Indians to 38 percent shooting (11-29). Despite their height advantage, the Indians enjoyed only a modest edge in rebounds, 23-20.
With the win, Hillsboro cracked the 20-victory barrier against four losses and will play former league rival Wichita Collegiate in the semifinals at 6:30 p.m. Friday. The Spartans defeated Riley County, 50-44, in the game prior to Hillsboro?s.