It was the kind of game you?d expect from two elite teams in the Mid-Central Activities Association?hard-fought and close. But when the dust cleared, Hillsboro prevailed Thursday over Marion before a raucous home-town Warrior crowd, 55-47.
In the end it was the Trojans? focus at the free-throw line that paved the way to victory and kept the Trojans undefeated in the MCAA at 10-0 (15-4 overall), while Marion slipped to 7-3 (13-5 overall).
Through the first three quarters, Hillsboro made only two of nine free throws, but in the final quarter, and with the game on the line, the Trojans canned 17 of 20.
?When you have that happening, the other team is going to have a hard time beating you,? coach Nathan Hiebert said about his team?s proficiency. ?I was very proud having those girls step up and hit those free throws.?
The intensity level was high from the start, especially on the defensive end. Hillsboro led 8-3 after one quarter, but made only four of 12 shots and turned the ball over seven times. Marion managed only one basket in nine attempts and committed nine turnovers.
In the second quarter, Marion, who was missing senior Kayley Heerey because of an injury, claimed the momentum with five players chipping in points. Julia Zeiner?s 3-pointer from the wing with 8.5 seconds left in the half gave Marion a 19-15 lead as both teams retreated to the locker room.
?I thought we came out with good intensity?both teams were pretty ramped up,? Hiebert said. ?With that much energy, we got quite a few steals but had a hard time converting those into buckets early.?
Marion pushed the lead to six points when Donna Cady scored the first basket of the third period. But six straight points by Hillsboro?including a big 3-pointer from the wing by Allie Faul?tied the game. After that, the scoring went back and forth before Marion ended on the high side of the seesaw, 30-29, as the quarter ended.
Hillsboro slipped into the driver?s seat with a 7-2 run through the first two minutes of the fourth quarter to lead by four, 36-32. After Lindsay Hett scored in the paint for Marion, Faul hit a second 3-pointer at the 5:14 mark to boost Hillsboro?s lead to five.
Faul?s trey turned out to be the last field goal Hillsboro made?or needed, thanks to gutsy free-throw shooting?until Dakota Kaufman scored in the paint with 32 seconds left to make the score 50-45.
For the game, the two teams played to a statistical dead heat, with no commanding difference in shooting accuracy (HHS 40 percent, MHS 36 percent), rebounding (HHS 32, MHS 31) or turnovers (HHS 16, Marion 17).
Kaufman finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds to lead Hillsboro, despite several stretches on the bench due to foul trouble. Faul added 14 points to help fill the void. Freshman Tena Loewen was 0-for-4 from the floor, but her 7-for-8 shooting from the line?all in the fourth quarter?was huge for the Trojans.
For Marion, Zeiner was a force to be reckoned with, finishing with a game-high 19 points. After some early foul trouble that limited her time in the first half, Lindsay Hett scored all 14 of her points in the second half to help keep the Warriors close.
Ellinwood?It took a few minutes to get the engine started, but once the Hillsboro girls got going, they cruised to a 55-25 win that had the continuous-clock in gear for most of the last quarter last Tuesday in Brown Gymnasium.
HHS never trailed in this game, but it was still 3-3 before Franny Gottsch hit one of two free throws at the 3:57 mark of the opening quarter. That unassuming start launched a 9-2 surge that carried HHS to a 9-5 lead at the first break.
Callie Serene came off the bench to drain three 3-point shots that helped fuel a 25-point second quarter and a comfortable 37-13 lead for Hillsboro at halftime. Tena Loewen added six points to the outburst.
During the third quarter, the lead grew to 49-18 before settling at 49-20 at the final break. When Loewen scored her game-high 14th point 30 seconds into the final period, the lead was 51-20 and the clock rule kicked in. Coach Nathan Hiebert cleared his bench at that point.
Key to this game was the scoring support from Loewen and Serene, who hit a fourth 3-pointer in the third quarter for 12 points. Those two more than made up for Dakota Kaufman?s sub-par night. The senior standout finished with 10 points, and for the first time this season did not lead the team in scoring.
As has frequently been the case this year, the game turned on Hillsboro?s defense, which forced 21 turnovers in the first half and 26 for the game. That resulted in a 28-7 advantage in points off turnovers.
Coming?Hillsboro?s victory at Marion set up a winner-take-all league championship game against 10-0 Hillsboro and 10-0 Wichita Collegiate Tuesday at Brown Gymnasium. Collegiate came into the game ranked No. 1 in Class 3A with an 18-1 season record.
Results, including photos, will be posted at hillsborofreepress.com following the contest.
The Trojans will get the rest of this week to prepare for their sub-state opener Tuesday at Brown Gymnasium. The No. 1 seed will be determined following Tuesday?s games, but will be either HHS or Remington.
?I think we?ve been playing well for the past several games,? coach Nathan Hiebert said. ?We?ve had some lapses, but every team has lapses. The thing I?m proud of is that our girls have a lot of confidence, and they?re really, really focused on knowing what they have to do.?
Following the opening-round game Tuesday, the remainder of the tournament will be played at Sterling. Check the Free Press web site and Free Line (947-3363) for schedule updates.