The Hillsboro girls opened state tournament play last Wednesday with a strong performance and high hopes, but in the end the undefeated No. 2 seed from Jefferson County North slipped past the No. 7 seeded Trojans, 53-50, in Manhattan.
The Trojans, who led by five points at halftime, still led as late as 1:24 left in the game after Addie Lackey sank a pair of free throws for a 47-46 advantage.
After Jefferson County?s Jacee Kramer responded with a pair of free throws 11 seconds later, Maddie Duerksen went to the foul line for Hillsboro with a one-and-one opportunity at exactly one minute to play. But her first shot just missed and the Chargers rebounded.
Following a timeout, Jamie Navinskey hit a pair of free throws for the Chargers with 37 seconds left for a 50-47 lead.
With time running down, Duerksen fired a three-point shot, but it just missed. The Chargers rebounded and sank two more free throws, this time by Mallory Kramer, with 10.7 seconds left for a seemingly insurmountable 52-47 lead.
But Hillsboro didn?t surrender. Danae Bina drained a three-point shot with just under 3 seconds left, and the Chargers called a timeout with 2.1 seconds to go. On the inbounds play, Bina fouled Jacee Kramer, who made one of two free throws with 0.7 seconds left.
Lackey took the inbounds pass and threw a desperate heave toward the basket from three-quarters-court away?but there was no miracle finish for Hillsboro.
With the Trojans hitting 46 percent from the floor, coach Nathan Hiebert said shooting was not the Trojans? Achilles heel.
?I think the tale of the two halves was rebounding,? he said. ?We controlled the boards the first half and gave them one opportunity. In the third quarter and fourth quarter I can count four or five buckets that they got off of offensive rebounds.
?When we play a great team like that, if you give them a lot of extra opportunities, that results in a lot of extra points that we can?t afford to give a good team.?
Both teams came out tight playing in cavernous Bramlage Coliseum on the Kansas State campus. They combined for five straight misses before Jenna Kramer scored for Jefferson County at the 5:43 mark.
After another Jefferson County basket bumped the lead to 4-0, Bina went on an offensive tear, scoring all 10 of Hillsboro?s points during a 10-7 surge that pulled the Trojans to within 11-10 with 2:03 left in the first quarter.
Mallory Kramer countered with a basket for the Chargers, but a lay-in and a free throw by Lackey tied the score at 13 as the period ended.
That set up Hillsboro for its best stretch of the night. With Jefferson County leading 15-13, Alex Ratzlaff hit a pair of free throws at the 6:05 mark that ignited a 10-2 Hillsboro run capped by a Lackey basket at 4:02 for a 23-17 lead.
Baskets by Ratzlaff and Lackey contributed to a 27-22 Trojan lead at intermission.
With Lackey pouring in 13 points in the third quarter, the Trojans led 41-37 at the final break. But a 7-0 run by the Chargers within the first two minutes of the fourth quarter changed the momentum of the game.
Ratzlaff scored two more baskets, which set up the final 1:24.
Lackey led all scorers with 26 points, Bina added 15 and Ratzlaff 9 to account for all of Hillsboro?s scoring.
?We talked at midseason that when only three girls score it makes it really pretty tough because the other teams can really focus on just three people,? Hiebert said.
?We just needed some other girls to get a couple of buckets. We had a couple of opportunities but just didn?t take advantage of it.?
Jacee Kramer led the Chargers with 22 points, Navinskey added 15 and Mallory Kramer 10.
The Trojans finished the season with an 18-6 record. Jefferson County North went on to be the tournament runner-up.
Though the ending was disappointing, Hiebert praised his girls for an outstanding year.
?I?m extremely proud of our girls,? he said. ?In midseason there were some ugly spells. We talked a lot about our character, and there were some stretches where we played a little selfishly. I thought we did a much better job at the end just attacking and being aggressive and just playing well together.?
For seniors Lackey, Bina, Duerksen and Courtney Troyer, the loss marked the end of their high school careers.
?These four seniors have had a big part in the success of our program,? Hiebert said of the Trojans? six straight state tournament appearances. ?It?s a neat tradition and testament to them and a lot of other girls.
?I?m pleased with how they fought and got back here. I would have liked a different ending, but that?s what happens sometimes.?