Hillsboro High School girls’ basketball coach Nathan Hiebert may have wondered what team he was seeing on the court March 11 in the first round of the 3A girls’ state tournament at Hutchinson’s Sports Arena.
For 16 minutes, the Lady Trojans looked like the same team that had come on strong the past two and one-half months, attacking the basket, moving around and making things happen offensively.
Against a team like top-seeded Southwestern Heights, that’s not nearly long enough.
The eighth-seeded Trojans made a valiant charge to stave off elimination in the fourth quarter, but the Mustangs’ second and third quarters were too much to overcome.
The Trojans lost by 11 and ended the season 14-10.
“I thought we had a decent first quarter. I was really disappointed with the second quarter,” Hiebert said. “I thought we rolled over and I thought we had more heart and desire than we did.”
Shooting 41 percent from the floor and getting a game-high 20 points from Dakota Kaufman is enough to win many games.
However, 25 turnovers made it a different story, not to mention going more than an entire quarter without scoring.
The Mustangs led by as many as four, twice in the first minute of the game, but Kaufman scored eight straight points to give Hillsboro a 12-9 lead to close out the quarter.
HHS tied the game three times in the second quarter — all courtesy of Kaufman — before the dam started cracking on the Trojans.
Kaufman’s basket with just more than three minutes left in the first half was the last Hillsboro could get to go down for more than nine minutes.
Kaufman was then whistled for her third foul with 1:19 left before halftime. Even before then, Hiebert knew his team was in grave danger.
The Trojans managed just one of five shots in the second quarter since opening the game 5-for-7. What’s worse, the smothering Mustang defense forced 15 Hillsboro mistakes, which they turned into 13 points.
Hillsboro stopped attacking the basket and moving around on offense, and Heights used a 9-0 run to take a 25-16 lead at halftime.
The miseries continued to mount on the Trojans in the third quarter as the Mustangs built a double-digit lead.
The Trojans struggled early in the year overcoming large deficits, and when Kaufman picked up her fourth foul with 5:25 left in the third quarter, Hillsboro’s hopes of a state title were in peril.
Senior post Kassidi Luthi also picked-up her fourth foul one minute after Kaufman, forcing Hiebert to go to a small lineup.
Tiffany Rooker’s three-point play ended Hillsboro’s scoring lapse with 2:26 to go in the third quarter, cutting the Mustang lead to 32-19 and stopping a 15-0 run.
The deficit stretched as far as 40-20 in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter before the Trojans seemed to sense what was happening.
Allie Faul buried a three to start the fourth quarter, fueling a 12-2 run to help Hillsboro cut the lead to 42-32 with 4:03 left in the game.
The Mustangs used two more Hillsboro mistakes to put the game out of reach, despite Kaufman scoring four straight points.
Becky Faber scored the final basket of the season with 16 seconds left.
Southwestern Heights only managed to shoot 37 percent from the field, but the Mustangs got 14 more shots than the Trojans’ 29 and turned over the ball nine less times.
“At the end, we started attacking again instead of being tentative and look what happened,” Hiebert said. “It was an incredible season, from where we started to where we ended. We were trying to pull a lot of new girls, different styles, new responsibilities. This year I felt like it would take some time, but all the girls bought into what they were supposed to do.”
The Trojans will lose Luthi, Rooker, Abi Humber, Jet Skiles, and Cassie Kroeker, but with Kaufman, Faul, point guard Candace Weinbrenner, and other key players returning, playing at Hutchinson next season isn’t far-fetched.
“I’m excited about next year,” Hiebert said. “We’re going to have a target on our back.”