With nine losses on the year, it’s safe to say the Hillsboro High School girls’ basketball team’s season has had its share of bumps and bruises.
The Lady Trojans are heading to the 3A state tournament after knocking off fifth-seeded Halstead Saturday 38-22 at the Marion sub-state, in a rematch of a Jan. 16 game which HHS lost, 26-25.
However, Saturday the Trojans’ defense suffocated Halstead, pitching a 9-0 shutout in the first quarter while holding the Dragons to an abysmal 12 percent for the game.
After a one-year absence since winning a 3A state title two years ago, the Trojans (14-9) are headed back to Hutchinson today (Wednesday) for the first round of the 2009 state tournament.
The eighth-seeded Trojans take on the top-seeded Kismet-Southwestern Heights Lady Mustangs at 6:30 p.m.
“The whole year, we’ve seen glimpses that this team could do something special if they wanted to,” said an ecstatic Trojan coach Nathan Hiebert. “We did it at the right time. We started playing better at the end of the season.”
That is saying the least.
It didn’t take long for the tires to go flat on the Dragons, opening the first half with a 1-for-18 shooting performance.
While mainly icy shooting hampered the Trojans in the first meeting, Hiebert found out firsthand the damage Dragon trio of Alexi Bohling, Marissa Vermillion, and post Rebecca Denny are capable of doing.
He made sure that wasn’t going to happen again.
Candace Weinbrenner had Bohling in a straightjacket the entire game, holding her without a field goal with her three points coming at the free-throw line.
Vermillion’s night was worse yet, as she finished 0-for-11 from the floor, also getting her two points at the line, thanks to suffocating defense by Allie Faul.
If there was one bright spot for the Dragons, it was Denny’s team-high 10 points to help give her a double-double with a game-high 15 rebounds.
One Trojan that openly expressed her frustration from the previous meeting was senior post Kassidi Luthi, who smacked the floor with her hand at the conclusion.
Luthi did what she could to prevent lightning from striking twice, scoring a season-high 14 points on 6-of-7 from the floor.
The Trojans fed the ball down low to Luthi and Dakota Kaufman, who also had a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Luthi’s fast break with four minutes left in the first half gave Hillsboro a comfortable 14-3 lead.
What’s more was the job she and Kaufman did harassing Denny inside, allowing her few easy shots while the Trojans coasted to a 20-5 lead at halftime.
The only real threat the Dragons ever posed was perhaps in the third quarter, pulling as close as 13 twice.
Kaufman and Luthi never allowed them any closer, and Faul sank a pair of free throws to stretch the gap to 27-10 to start the fourth quarter.
Another fast break layup from Luthi and the Trojans had their largest lead yet — 33-14 — with 5:33 left in the game.
The lead would grow as big as 35-15 before Halstead closed the game on a 7-3 run.
Hiebert allowed his reserves to get in on the destruction with 1:29.
Hiebert’s been harping the last part of the season about a sore spot for his team — rebounding.
He was almost as excited about out-rebounding the Dragons, 35-32, as he was being able to make his first trip to state as the Lady Trojans’ coach.
“Tonight we got a little bit of confidence and things happened,” Hiebert said. “We talked about two girls we had to stop with Vermillion and Bohling.”
Although the Trojans’ shooting wasn’t spectacular — 35 on the night — their defense made it an all-around miserable evening for the Dragons and making the revenge sweet.
With a victory tonight, Hillsboro would meet the winner of the Cherryvale-Jayhawk-Linn contest two days later at the same time in Hutchinson.