Looking to win their first Trojan Classic title since 2012, the Hillsboro boys stepped into a first-half stampede of Holcomb Longhorns in the championship game.
When the dust cleared at halftime, the host team was on the short end of a 26-7 score against the No. 2 team in Class 4A-Div. II.
Hillsboro, ranked No. 6 in Class 2A, battled back in the second half to within single digits in the fourth quarter, but could not overcome the first-half deficit in a 55-42 loss on Saturday.
Holcomb demonstrated its defensive prowess from the start, smothering Trojan shooters not only in the lane but on the perimeter as well.
Hillsboro made only one of 15 shots in the opening period when Elias Werth drove the lane for a basket at the 6:42 mark. Darian Ratzlaff added a pair of free throws a minute later, and Werth added one more free throw at the 2:05 mark for an 11-5 deficit as the quarter ended.
The second quarter may have been even more frustrating for the home team. Wes Shaw managed a 2-point basket at the 5:30 mark, but that was Hillsboro’s only score of the quarter.
By halftime, Holcomb led 26-7. The Trojans made only two of 28 field-goal attempts during the first half.
During intermission, coach Darrel Knoll said he tried to give his team some perspective.
“I just said, look guys, I know it feels like we’re just getting drilled right now, but we are not playing that badly. So settle down, make your shots, and then keep playing tough defense. Let’s give it all we have and give ourselves a chance.”
And that’s what Hillsboro did. The second half was distinctly different from the first one. Shaw scored 45 seconds into the third quarter, then added a second basket at the 5:52 mark. When Ratzlaff drained a three at the 4:31 mark, the deficit was down to 37-22. A basket by Shaw in the final 4 seconds, made it 40-29.
The Trojans kept up the pressure down the stretch. When Ratzlaff scored off a steal by Werth, the Trojans were within eight points (48-40) with 3:06 to play.
But Holcomb isn’t highly ranked for conceding. The Longhorns finished the game with a 7-2 surge as the Trojans were called for fouls trying to make a stop.
Werth led the Trojans with 25 points—all but three came in the second half. Shaw finished with 10 points, but struggled against the Longhorn defenders with a 5-for-18 effort. As a team, the Trojans shot 26 percent (15-58) from the floor, including 3-for-12 from three.
Holcomb was led by Kobe Dickson with 18 points. The Longhorns shot 41 percent (21-51) for the game, and had a 48-29 edge in rebounding.
“I was so proud of the guys for just continuing to play and continuing to get it done,” Knoll said. “We wanted the championship. We didn’t get it, but this was a positive effort for us because we did come back in the second half.”
Hillsboro 54, Clay Center 48
Game 2, Friday
The Trojans came out of the opening gate like Tiger hunters. Elias Werth scored three 3-point baskets and a 2-pointer, and Wes Shaw added eight points to propel Hillsboro to a 19-6 lead by the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter started the same way. Werth hit a three and Shaw a 2-pointer for a 24-11 score at the 6:28 mark.
Hillsboro suddenly stepped into the Twilight Zone where nobody’s shots were going in the basket. Shaw did nail a 3-pointer at the 1:57 mark to give the Trojans a halftime lead of 27-20.
“We came out so sharp and played so well—then we missed like 10 layups that could have easily made it 37-20 at halftime, and we quit rebounding,” coach Darrel Knoll said about the lapse. “It was like after we got that lead, it all got sloppy. (Clay Center was) playing helter-skelter and we began doing the same thing. We didn’t look like ourselves.”
Hillsboro’s shooting funk refused to lift as the third quarter began. The Trojans launched 14 shots from the floor, but only four hit the mark. The Tigers made eight of 18 field-goal attempts to take a 38-35 lead as the quarter ended.
As the fourth quarter began, Darian Ratzlaff stepped up after a quiet first half. The junior hit two baskets late in the third quarter, then started the fourth quarter with a 2- and 3-pointer in the first 1:38. When he added a free throw at the 5:45 mark, Hillsboro was within 42-41.
Both teams struggled to score over the next two minutes, but when Caleb Rempel drove the lane for a 2-point basket with an assist from Werth, Hillsboro pulled even at 43 with 3:28 to play.
Ratzlaff struck again, this time with a 3-point dagger in the heart of the Tigers with 2:56 to play. Clay Center hit a dry stretch of their own, and managed only three points before the final buzzer.
Meanwhile, Shaw made a 3-point play at 1:21 and his teammates nailed five free-throws down the stretch to secure the six-point victory.
Shaw led the Trojans with 17 points, Werth added 16 and Ratzlaff finished with 13 as Hillsboro.
“You’ve got to credit them for turning it around,” Knoll said about Clay Center. “They could have easily been run out of the gym early. I’m just happy the guys kept playing and we were able to get the win tonight.
Hillsboro 81 Sunrise 59
Game 1, Wednesday
The Hillsboro boys opened the 2018 Trojan Classic with a domineering 81-59 victory over Sunrise Christian Academy in Brown Gymnasium.
With Wes Show scoring six points in the paint almost at will, the Trojans established a 19-12 lead by the end of the period.
A 19-9 second quarter propelled the Trojans to a 38-21 lead by halftime. Elias Werth dropped in eight points during the quarter.
The third quarter essentially separated the two teams from here to eternity, thanks to Hillsboro’s 25-point effort. Werth tossed in 10 points to fuel the surge.
With a 63-40 lead, the only question heading into the fourth quarter was how many points Hillsboro might put on the scoreboard before it was over.
Werth finished with 20 points to lead the Trojans. Darian Ratzlaff added 19 and Shaw tossed in 16.
“I thought we did a great job defensively, especially early,” coach Darrel Knoll said. “It kind of shut down what they wanted to do. I thought we rebounded really well and ran the floor.
“The second half they stayed with us a little bit more. But I got good minutes from a lot of guys. I couldn’t have asked for a better effort after three days of not really practicing (because of the weather).”
Coming—Following their 2-1 record at the Classic, the Trojans will take a week off from games before taking their 11-2 record to Council Grove on Jan. 30.