Winning consecutive state basketball titles is twice as nice

Rarely does a team dominate the competition the way the Hillsboro High School boys basketball team did this year. Even so, longtime Trojans fans may have had a feeling of deja vu all over again during the stall-ball game in the state semifinals against Lyndon.

Fifty years ago in 1972, the Hillsboro boys were ranked No. 1 in their class but were eliminated in a low-scoring game by Hesston in sub-state, when the Swathers played keep away for most of the game.

This year’s HHS team also was ranked No. 1 but ran into a Lyndon H.S. team that used the same stall-ball strategy. Leading only 8-7 at halftime, Hillsboro rallied late in the game to force overtime, before pulling away in the second overtime to win by nine points. It would have been sadly ironic and very disappointing if the Trojans had lost in a similar manner as they did 50 years ago.

Instead of extreme disappointment, however, there was only relief and joy when the Trojans returned to form in a blow-out win over St. Mary’s in the State 2A Championship Game.

Seeing that St. Mary’s had defeated previously unbeaten Valley Falls 80-69 the night before the championship game, two thoughts crossed my mind. One, there’s no way St. Mary’s would score 80 points against Hillsboro, and two, I doubted they would play stall-ball in the championship. I was right on both counts.

Just how dominant was Hillsboro this season? Consider that the Trojans won 18 games by 20 or more points, four games by 10-19 points, and three games by less than 10 points, in addition to losing by just one point in their only loss. They split their two games with eventual 3A State Champion Hesston.

The following statistics are borderline ridiculous. HHS led by 30 or more points in 15 games this year. Fourteen of those were games with a running clock in the fourth quarter. The number would be higher, but there’s no running clock in the fourth quarter of a state tournament game.

For the year, HHS averaged 62.4 points per game, while allowing just 34.2 points per game, which also is amazing.

Give a tip-of-the-cap to Trojan players and coaching staff for an astonishing run. Four of the five starters were seniors, and they will be sorely missed next year.

Matt Potucek averaged 12.6 points per game (ppg); Grayson Ratzlaff averaged 12.3 ppg; Frank Wichert averaged 8.9 ppg; and Duncan Duell averaged 4.2 ppg. The team’s leading scorer was junior Brekyn Ratzlaff, who averaged 17.2 ppg.

Jaxxon Hanschu, Tyson Plenert, and Jake Thiessen all played their roles well, while coming off the bench.

Kudos to head coach Darrel Knoll and assistants Kyle Kroeker and Demetrius Cox for their leadership.

In Knoll’s 34 years as head boys’ coach, the Trojans have played in 15 state tournaments, winning the championship five times, one co-championship (COVID year in 2020), second place three times, and third place three times. The other three times, Hillsboro lost in the first round.

Knoll’s overall record as the head coach is 587-211.

In spite of dominating most competition, the Trojans faced serious adversity in the stall-ball game against Lyndon. “Coaching that game required lots of patience and energy,” said Knoll. “Going zone allowed us to keep our legs, and we were able to turn up the defense with our backs to the wall. I am really proud of this team competing to win, even when it didn’t look good.”

Knoll would love to see a shot clock, and not just because of the stall-ball game. “I have wanted that my entire career because it keeps the game moving.”

Every team may have a goal of winning a state championship, but it’s usually unrealistic. However, in Hillsboro’s case, especially with the senior talent the Trojans had, anything less than a state title would have been disappointing. But there are no guarantees, and Hillsboro played the entire season with a bulls-eye on its back.

Knoll said: “We played outstanding basketball this season, but winning the championship truly made this season special.”

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