Defense wins championships. Cliche became reality Saturday as the Hillsboro Trojans put on one of their finest defensive performances of the season to shut down Lyndon and win the Class 2A sub-state at Canton, 43-32.
Hillsboro built an 11-5 lead after one quarter by limiting the Tigers to 2-for-11 shooting, pulling down most of the defensive rebounds and forcing four turnovers.
The Trojans squeezed the Tigers even more in the second period, holding Lyndon to only five shots and one basket. Hillsboro managed only 2-for-10 shooting in the quarter for a 16-11 lead.
The Trojans took control in the third quarter, finding success on offense with a 12-3 run through the first 4:21. Darian Ratzlaff scored two field goals, Preston Loewen nailed a three and Carson Herbel and Wes Shaw each added two-point baskets.
But the Tigers didn’t lay down, putting together a 6-2 surge over the final 2:28 to make the score 30-22 as the quarter ended.
It appeared Lyndon might ignite a comeback when Beau Brecheisen hit a three at the 5:52 mark of the fourth quarter. But just the opposite happened. Loewen responded with a three of his own seconds later, and the Trojans went on a 10-4 surge to end the game.
“We were intense,” coach Darrel Knoll said about his team’s play on defense. “You could tell we were dialed in to who we had to stop and we contested well.”
On offense, Ratzlaff led the Trojans with 12 points and Joe Knoll came off the bench to score 10 points, including two three pointers and 4-for-4 free throws.
“I thought both those guys came to play all the way around, offense and defense,” Coach Knoll said. “Everybody else had great minutes, too. I thought Wes was a big force inside, boarding the ball and blocking shots. Elias made a lot of great defense plays, he got two blocks down the stretch on the three-point shots.
“We really frustrated those guys tonight.”
As a team, the Trojans hit 12 of 39 shots (31 percent) from the floor while the Tigers made nine of 35 shots (26 percent). Hillsboro made 15 of 27 free throws while Lyndon made 10 of 21.
With the win, the Trojans advance to the Class 2A state tournament in Manhattan this week. Seeded eighth with a 17-6 record, the Trojans will face the No. 1 seed Sacred Heart (22-1) at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in Bramlage Coliseum.
HHS 44, Moundridge 43 (OT)
Semifinals, March 2
Hillsboro battled back from an eight-point halftime deficit to force overtime and ultimately claim a nail-biter victory over Moundridge in Thursday’s semifinal.
It was a typical defensive battle between these two foes. Moundridge scored the first basket 18 seconds into the contest. The Trojans didn’t score until Preston Loewen hit a 15-foot jumper at the 2:10 mark, but the Wildcats’ lead was only 5-2. Each team managed one more basket before ending the quarter with a 7-4 score.
In the second quarter, Moundridge pushed the lead to 17-11, mostly on free throws. By the end of the quarter, the Wildcats led 23-15.
Elias Werth scored the first bucket 24 seconds into the third quarter. Despite four turnovers and a blocked shot in the first four minutes, the Trojans were down only by a 25-17 count.
Joe Knoll hit a three at the 3:12 mark, Wes Shaw added a basket and a free throw and Carson Herbel made one of two free throws with 2.6 seconds left to pull Hillsboro within 27-24 with one quarter to play.
The Trojans loosened up in the final period. Werth scored eight points, including two threes. Darian Ratzlaff added a three and Shaw hit a huge 15-foot basket with 59 seconds left to put the Trojans in front 37-35.
With 28 second left, Noah Eichelberger tied the game with a 5-foot jumper. Werth got off a last-second three-point shot but it missed the mark, forcing overtime.
Moundridge took the lead six seconds in on a basket by Otte. But when Ratzlaff drained a step-back three from the top of the key, Hillsboro grabbed momentum and a 40-39 lead with 1:43 to play. After two more free throws by Eichelberger, the Wildcats led for the last time at 41-40 with 1:26 to play.
Loewen nailed a 15-foot jumper with 1:10 to play and Braden Vogt scored deep in the paint on a sweet assist from Ratzlaff for a 44-41 Trojan lead with 30 seconds to go.
Otte brought his team within a point on a basket with 5 second to play. Following an immediate timeout by Moundridge, the Trojans faced a precarious inbounds play on the Wildcat baseline. Werth managed to secure the short pass and was fouled with 1.9 seconds left.
The junior missed the one-and-one, but it didn’t really matter as the buzzer sounded as Moundridge heaved an off-target desperation shot.
Werth led the Trojans with 12 points and Ratzlaff added 10.
“I thought we played really tight for thee quarters of this game,” coach Darrel Knoll said. “In the fourth quarter, we finally relaxed a little and made some shots and made better decisions.
“Everybody made some really good plays,” he added. “They battled hard, we battled hard. I was just really proud of the guys for staying with the game.”