The Hillsboro boys met the Hesston Swathers, the No. 2 ranked team in Class 3A, in a championship-worthy showdown Saturday at the Trojan Classic.
The game ended with a disappointing loss, but Hillsboro’s runner-up status didn’t sour coach Darrel Knoll’s assessment of his team.
“It was a highly successful tournament,” he said. “The guys are working really hard and they’re a fun bunch to coach. We just have to keep working to improve.”
The Trojans’ 2-1 week brought their season record to 11-2 while Hesston returned home with a 12-1 mark.
Hesston 53, HHS 41
The two long-time rival teams came out wired for a hard-nosed defensive battle, and it continued from start to finish.
Two baskets to start the game by Cole McCreary, Hesston’s 6-foot, 5-inch post player, signaled a mismatch the Trojans would struggle to counter all night long.
At the same time, Hesston’s defensive quickness limited open three-point attempts for the Trojan sharp-shooters, particularly in the first half. But by the end of the game, Hillsboro did hit eight of 21 attempts.
Hesston built an 8-3 lead halfway through the first quarter, but Darien Ratzlaff scored for Hillsboro and Hesston point guard Zach Vogt did the same for Hesston to make the score 10-5 as the quarter ended.
Hillsboro narrowed the gap to 12-9 midway through the quarter, but Hesston launched a 10-6 surge that bumped the margin to 23-15 by halftime.
McCreary started the second-half with a traditional three-point play, giving Hesston its first double-digit lead. But when Ratzlaff and Preston Loewen nailed back-to-back threes on either side of the 5-minute mark, the Trojans were within 28-23.
Once again, the Swathers surged, this time with a 9-0 run to inflate the lead to 37-23 with 2:21 to play. The quarter ended on a last-second basket by McCreary to put the score at 39-27.
Despite their aggressive play on defense, the Trojans were unable to draw closer than nine points during the final quarter.
Werth led Hillsboro with 13 points while Ratzlaff and Loewen each added 11. As a team, the Trojans made only 10 of their 40 shot attempts from the floor for 25 percent accuracy.
McCreary led Hesston with 15 points—three more than Hesston’s margin of victory. Vogt added 14 and Zach Esau 12. As a team, the Swathers hit 47 percent of their shots (18-38).
“We played defense that should have been good enough to win,” Knoll said “We just didn’t get the ball in the basket. The guys are all doing what they need to do, we just need to clean it up and finish.”
HHS 51, Republic Co. 41
The Trojans shifted from winning pretty in their tournament opener against Clay Center to winning gritty against a physical Republic County team in the championship semifinals Friday.
Hillsboro started slowly on offense and actually trailed the Buffaloes 7-4 when Republic’s Nick Allsman hit a three at the 2:41 mark. But the Trojans responded with a three from Joe Knoll, a pair of free throws from Braden Vogt and a three-point basket by Elias Werth to jump in front 12-7 with that 8-0 run to end the quarter.
In the second quarter, Hillsboro did most of its damage from the free-throw line, making seven of nine freebies while managing only three field goal.
Republic County, meanwhile, managed only three baskets in 11 attempts and made only one of four free throws, enabling Hillsboro’s 25-14 lead at intermission.
The two teams played to a standoff in the third quarter, and it took a three-pointer from Darien Ratzlaff at the buzzer to give Hillsboro a 34-24 lead at the end.
The Buffaloes inched to within six points of the Trojans after scoring the first two baskets of the fourth quarter. But Wes Shaw countered with a put-back and Ratzlaff followed with a three from the corner to bring the margin back to nine. Down the stretch, Hillsboro’s Elias Werth drained two more threes to help defuse Republic County’s comeback efforts.
Werth finished as the game’s high scorer with 16 points. He was the only player on either team to break double digits.
As a team, Hillsboro shot 31 percent (14-45) from the field while the Buffaloes made 35 percent (17-48) of their attempts. Hillsboro had a 15-5 scoring advantage from the free-throw line.
“We played pretty solid defense all night,” coach Darrel Knoll said. “For the most part we did a great job on that side. We just never got ourselves into a rhythm on offense. It’s one of those games where we’ve got to put it back together and be a little sharper offensively.
HHS 63, Clay Center 36
Starting the game with a masterful effort on both ends of the court propelled the Trojans to their 27-point win over the Tigers.
Hillsboro led 8-2 before the game was three minutes old. By the end of the first quarter, the Trojans were up 21-10. Hillsboro made eight of 11 shots in the quarter while limiting Clay Center to three baskets on six shots. On defense, the Trojans forced six Tiger turnovers.
Hillsboro continued the trend the rest of the game and never hit a prolonged scoring drought. By halftime, the Trojans led 33-17 and by the end of the third quarter the margin was 52-28.
“We wanted to pressure them hard and we wanted to run the court hard,” coach Darrel Knoll said. “I think we did both of those things. We took care of the boards pretty well tonight and just kept playing. The ball movement offensively was as good as it’s been for a while. That led to some really high percentage shots.”
The Trojans added an 11-8 edge to win the final quarter, but the strongest reaction of the night was a prolonged roar by the hometown fans when senior Garrett Funk, making his first varsity appearance, nailed his first-ever shot attempt, to give the Trojans a 62-36 advantage.
Preston Loewen led the Trojans with 15 points. Joe Knoll came off the bench to add 11. Nine Trojans contributed points. As a team, Hillsboro shot 45 percent (23-51) for the game—one of their best outings of the season—while limiting the Tigers to 24 percent (10-42).
Coming—Hillsboro will take this week off but will return to action Jan. 31 at Council Grove.