So dominating were the No. 4 seeded Trojans (23-3) during the week that the capstone, a 50-31 conquest of No. 6 Sacred Heart (18-8) on Saturday, was almost anticlamactic.
“It was a weird excitement,” said senior floor leader JuliAnne Chisholm, who paced the Trojan attack with 17 points, 14 rebounds and six assists.
“It wasn’t that we weren’t excited, but it wasn’t a game that we won by a last-second shot. It was almost expected—but we were really happy with it.”
Chisholm helped her teammates to a solid start, scoring eight of her points in the first 4:28 of the game for a 10-3 lead.
After Tina Frick drained a 10-footer for a 12-5 lead with 2:53 to go, the Trojans missed their next four shots and the Knights climbed to within 12-10 by the end of the quarter.
Amy Neufeld came off the bench to lead the Trojans’ next surge, scoring the first and last baskets of an 11-2 run over the first three minutes of the second quarter that gave Hillsboro a 23-12 lead.
Once again the Trojans slipped into neutral on offense, but their defense kept Sacred Heart at bay for a 23-16 lead at intermission.
Coach Dale Honeck was focused on defense, anyway.
“They had 16 (points) at half, and we said if we could keep it at another 16, we’d win,” he said.
As it turned out, the Trojans did one point better than that, but the outcome was still in question through the third period. The Knights got a combined five points from their two offensive stars, Katie Pratt and Crystal Stegman, to pull Sacred Heart to within 25-21 at the 5:42 mark of the quarter.
But Hannah Marsh responded with a 3-pointer and then a layup off a steal by Chisholm over a 49-second span to push the lead back to nine points, 30-21.
Sacred Heart scored the next four points to crawl back to within five, but Chisholm responded with 10-footer at the 2:16 mark and freshman Samantha Soyez followed with huge 3-pointer with 1:00 to go that put the Trojans on top by 10 at the final break, 35-25.
Smelling blood in the water by that point, the Trojans saved their best quarter for last. After Sacred Heart failed to cash in on three shots at the basket to start the period, Chisholm scored at the other end to launch another 11-2 Trojan run. This one put the game on ice at 46-27 with 2:44 to go.
Chisholm scored seven points during the surge and Dakota Kaufman, another freshman, added four as Hillsboro finished with a 15-6 advantage for the quarter and celebrated a well-deserved title—especially the five varsity seniors, Chisholm, Frick, Marsh, Lora Andrews and Megan McCarty.
“It’s huge,” Chisholm said. “We’ve been waiting for this forever. I know it’s cliche to say we’ve been wanting this since we were little kids, but it’s true. We all looked up to my sister’s class, and we were all there when they won.”
That sister, Keli Chisholm, has been a Trojan assistant coach during this magical season.
As has been the case through Hillsboro’s dominating march through the post-season, a major key to victory has been the team’s ability to shut down their opponents’ primary scorers.
Against Sacred Heart, Pratt and Stegman, who came in averaging more than 35 points between them, managed only 12 on a combined 4-for-28 shooting effort.
Pratt, herself averaging better than 19, was 1-for-9 from the floor and 1-for-4 from the line for a paltry three points.
“That was awesome,” Honeck said of the defensive effort of Frick and Chisholm, who took turns covering the 6-foot-1 Knight star.
“We said for them to win, they would have to go through her. She’d have to score for them to win. We did a good job on her.”
With their big guns all but silenced, the Knights floundered to a dismal 19 percent shooting performance from the floor (10-52) while Hillsboro had its best effort of the tournament at 52 percent (23-44).
Chisholm was the only Trojan in double figures, but three other Trojans chipped in six or more points: Kaufman (8), Marsh (7) and Soyez (6).
“Juli can do so many things for us, but we have some other good athletes on this team,” Honeck said. “We’ve had other players shooting and scoring now better than we did in January. We have more than one scorer on this team now.”
Honeck, the HHS principal who stepped in as interim coach this season, said winning the state title meant a lot to his team.
“They’ve worked so hard for this,” he said of his seniors in particular. “I can’t speak for all the previous years, but I know over their four years they’ve done a lot of things right.
“I happened to come along at a good time, when we had a lot of good kids. It just jelled together.”
Hillsboro 57, Neodesha 31
Class 3A quarterfinals
The disruptive power of aggressive defense was on full display in the second half of Friday’s state semifinals as Hillsboro simply dismantled No. 1 seeded and previously unbeaten Neodesha.
A defensive effort that held Neodesha to 29 percent shooting in the first half helped the Trojans to a 26-18 first half lead.
But in the second half, the Trojans’s python-like defense simply squeezed the offensive life out of the Bluestreaks.
Not only did Neodesha have trouble getting its shots to drop—making only six of 31 attempts for 19 percent shooting—but on several occasions the shots were far off the mark.
“We got in right on top of them,” coach Dale Honeck said. “The kids played hard.
“We probably didn’t get a lot of turnovers, but we kept them off base through the game. We got a couple of turnovers, but we kept them off balance and made them work to get (a shot) up.
“Once we got that lead it was hard for them to come down and get enough possessions to beat us.”
The Trojans made a early, jumping to an 8-2 lead on baskets by Lora Andrews, JuliAnee Chisholm and two from Tina Frick.
But the Bluestreaks battled back, closing to within 14-13 when their floor leader, Kelly Whitson, scored her second basket of the game with four seconds left in the first quarter.
When Neodesha tied the game on a free throw to start the second period, freshman Samantha Soyez drained a 16-footer that ignited an 11-0 Hillsboro run that didn’t end until Whitson scored in the paint with 37 seconds left in the half.
Soyez scored six points during that stretch.
After a free throw by Frick, Whitson hit a pair with 11.6 seconds left to pull the Bluestreaks to within 26-18 at intermission.
Hillsboro secured a spot in the championship game with a brilliant third quarter. On the offensive end, Andrews scored 26 seconds into it, and by the time Dakota Kaufman scored in the paint five minutes later, Hillsboro had pushed its lead from eight to 20 at 44-24.
The Bluestreaks, appearing unnerved at times, made only four of 19 shots from the floor and one of four free throws during the period, which ended at 44-27.
Meanwhile, Andrews tossed in six points and Frick and Chisholm added four each as the Trojans made seven of their 13 shots from the floor and all four of their free throws.
As effective as the Trojans were in the third quarter, they may have saved the best for last, holding Neodesha to two baskets on 15 attempts.
Meanwhile, Chisholm stepped up with seven of her game-high 21 points as Hillsboro pushed its lead to 55-29 with 2:53 to go and the Trojan bench carried the torch the rest of the way.
On of the keys for Hillsboro was containing Neodesha’s two best scorers, Whitson and Stevi Schultz, who combined for 19 points on 8-for-27 shooting.
Honeck said switching Frick, at 6-foot-2, on Whitson, at 5-7, after Chisholm picked up a couple of early fouls, turned out to be an effective move.
“We found out that her height gave (Whitson) a lot of trouble,” Honeck said. “She has guarded for us on the perimeter before, and when she can stay up with her height, it’s just a totally different look for a perimeter player.”
As team the Trojans shot nearly 48 percent from the floor (20-42). In support of Chisholm, who pulled down 10 rebounds to go with 21 points, Frick added 11 points while Andrews scored nine and Soyez eight.
Kaufman pulled down nine rebounds and contributed six points in another key contribution off the bench.
Hillsboro 54, Garden Plain 39
Class 3A quarterfinals
The Trojans used a combination of great defense, a height advantage and surprising poise to power themselves to a convincing win over No. 5 seeded Garden Plain in Wednesday’s opening round.
A team that had never set foot on the Hutchinson Sports Arena floor in their careers played like tournament veterans from start to finish.
JuliAnne Chisholm scored the game’s first basket off a steal 45 seconds after tipoff and Tina Frick added a stick-back 17 seconds later that gave Hillsboro a lead it would never relinquish.
After a 3-pointer from the Owls’ team leader, Kim Kerschen, Lora Andrews scored Hillsboro’s next six points to keep the Trojans ahead 10-7.
Garden Plain then scored to pull back to within a point, but a 5-0 surge in the final 3:15 gave the Trojans a 14-9 margin at the first break.
Amy Neufeld, who came off the bench to score the final point of the first quarter, scored six more unanswered points to start the second quarter.
Three points from Chisholm and two from Samantha Soyez completed what turned out to be a 13-0 run that lasted from midway through the first quarter to the 4:41 mark of the second one, when Kerschen hit a pair of free throws to make the score 23-11.
Garden Plain responded with a 13-4 surge to cut the lead to 27-22 with 1:48 left in the half. But consecutive baskets by Dakota Kaufman, Neufeld and Chisholm pushed the lead back to 11 at intermission, 33-22.
Coach Dale Honeck said his team came out with confidence in its state-tournament debut.
“They’re were ready to go,” he said. “Some of our older kids have been in state volleyball and state track. I think they’re used to state competition.”
The Trojans proved the first half was no fluke, taking control of the game with an 11-4 third-quarter during which they pressured the Owls into 1-for-10 shooting from the floor and three turnovers.
“That’s been our game all year—to get turnovers and score off of them,” Honeck said. “Generally, we didn’t press as much in the second half today, but that’s our game.”
Kaufman, a 6-foot freshman, tossed in six of her eight points during that quarter. For the evening, she also pulled down seven rebounds and blocked two shots.
“Dakota played well the whole time she was in there,” Honeck said. “She was off the floor quick, she put the ball back up. She was looking good.”
Sporting a 44-26 spread heading into the final period, Hillsboro missed its first five shots from the floor. But the Owls chipped only four points off the lead during that span.
Tina Frick then stepped up with six of her 10 points over a 1:43 stretch midway through the period. Combined with a pair of free throws from Chisholm and a coast-to-coast layup by Hannah Marsh, the lead jumped to 20 at 54-34 with 3:03 to go, and both teams substituted freely the rest of the way.
Chisholm finished with a team-high 12 points despite an off shooting night (4-14). The senior standout added seven rebounds, five blocked shots and four steals.
As a team, the Trojans shot just under 34 percent (19-56) from the floor, which made the final margin of victory all the more impressive.
Once more, defense made the difference. Garden Plain shot only 30 percent (12-40) from the floor and committed 24 turnovers against the Trojan pressure that led to 24 points. Hillsboro was credited with nine blocked shots.
“We have good athletes on this team—kids with good speed and height,” Honeck said. “When we come out, we want to press hard. That’s a big psychological thing for us. We’ve got to press hard, run hard and change defenses and run right at them.”