The Knights went on to win the state title by defeating their next two opponents by an average of more than 13 points.
Sacred Heart came into the tournament with a 22-1 record while the Trojans, as the lowest seed, came in at 17-6. But this game was a battle from the start.
Preston Loewen scored the first points of the game 20 seconds in, but the Knights took the lead with a three-pointer 13 seconds later.
When Carson Herbel drained a three and Wes Shaw hit one of two free throws with 4:11 left in the quarter, the game was tied at 6-6. But Sacred Heart inflated the lead to 13-6 by the time the quarter ended, thanks to three turnovers and two missed shots by Hillsboro.
The Trojans made their first four shots of the second quarter, and when Elias Werth scored on a drive to the basket with 4:40 to play, the Trojans were within 18-15. Four turnovers and two more missed shots enabled Sacred Heart to rebuild its lead to 26-18.
Loewen then scored on a drive to the basket and was fouled with 1:25 left in the half. He made the bonus free throw for a three-point play, then added two more free throws with 4.7 seconds left to narrow the Knights’ lead to 26-20 at intermission.
Hillsboro came out firing in the third quarter when Braden Vogt scored in the paint, then hit a three from the wing. Loewen followed with another three to squeeze the deficit to 31-28 at the 6:06 mark.
Both teams struggled for points over the next three and a half minutes. Sacred Heart managed a pair of free throws and Darian Ratzlaff scored a solo basket in the lane to make it a 33-30 game.
When Sacred Heart scored in the lane with 1:21 left in the quarter, Ratzlaff nailed a three from the top of the key with 45.3 seconds left. On the Trojans’ next possession, Shaw threw up a frantic final shot at the buzzer that found its way into the basket to make the score 39-38 with one quarter to play.
Ratzlaff, Werth and Loewen hit consecutive three-point baskets as the fourth quarter started; Loewen’s put Hillsboro on top for the first time in the game at 47-46. When Werth hit another three at the 3:12 mark, the Trojans led 53-50.
From there, Hillsboro suffered two more turnovers while Sacred Heart hit two of four free throws to take a 53-52 lead with 41.5 seconds to play. After both teams called a timeout, Werth drove into the lane and cashed in a defended layup for a 54-53 lead with 6.8 seconds to play.
Sacred Heart called back-to-back timeouts before putting the ball in play again. The Knights’ Stratton Brown scored in the paint with one second left for what appeared to be a game winner.
But the referees ruled Hillsboro had called a timeout with 0.8 seconds left. Unfortunately, the Trojans’ inbounds pass from the baseline was off target and went out of bounds, giving the ball back to the Knights on their baseline. They got the ball back in play and the final horn confirmed the Sacred Heart victory.
Loewen completed his senior season with 16 points to lead the Trojans. Werth added 12 points and Ratzlaff finished with 10. Brown led the Knights with 20 points and Quinn Riordan added 18.
As a team, the Trojans outshot the Knights, 57 percent (20-35) to 49 percent (21-43) and made 10 of 19 three-point shots.
Joining Loewen in his final game were seniors Braden Vogt and Carson Herbel.
“I am very proud of this team,” coach Darrel Knoll said. “It was a fun, balanced team that competed to win every game and played at a high level throughout the year against solid competition.”
Of the Trojans seven losses, two were to Hesston a top-ranked team in 3A, and three against teams that finished among the top three at state: Sacred Heart, the 2A champion; Pratt, the 4A-Div. II runner-up; and Southeast of Saline, third place in 3A; and a loss to Smoky Valley, a 4A-Div. II.
“I will miss the seniors,” Knoll said. “Each one played such an important role on the team. Preston had an outstanding shooting year and was good on the boards. Carson played very good defense, shot 58 percent, and led the team in rebounds per game, and Braden hit big threes at key times, but most impressively played great defense—he took 26 charges on the season.
“Each of the returning players were highly important to our success, and I am looking forward to coaching them next year.”