Trojans compete in home tourney
Through 11 games, the Lady Trojans have battled to the best of their ability, but much of the competition was just too tough, causing a seven-game slide and glum, deflated spirits.
After dropping their Trojans Classic opener to eventual runner-up Hesston, the Trojans appear to be a different team.
That “different” sixth-seeded team (5-8) bounced back to snap its losing streak, posting two wins to finish fifth after buffaloing Sunrise Academy, 44-29, on Saturday.
“I hope so,” coach Nathan Hiebert said of whether his team can get back on track. “We were able to execute our plays and get a lot of good looks early on and we won every quarter.
“We’ve got to keep this same positive team energy, have a little fun, and play with more confidence.”
That seemed to pay dividends as the newly energized Trojans were able to grab an early lead and build on it in something rarely seen this year.
Hot off a career-high of 16 points with a quartet of threes the night before in a 36-15 rout of Bennington, Mesa Merrell scored the game’s first basket just over 15 seconds in.
The Buffaloes were stuck in the mud the entire contest, suffering through a miserable 8 percent shooting the first quarter as the Trojans raced to a 10-5 lead.
Abby Sechrist scored 6 points while pulling down a game-high 10 rebounds, giving the Trojans a double-digit lead with 4:38 left in the first half.
Six out of seven Trojans scored, and Savannah Unruh buried a three at the 1:39 mark to help Hillsboro to a 22-11 lead by halftime behind 37 percent shooting from the field.
Rebecca Kaufman, who finished with a game-high 11 points, picked Sunrise’s pocket and scored on a fast break to give Hillsboro its largest lead of the game, 29-13, nearing midway of the third quarter.
One of Hillsboro’s better shooting performances of the season cooled off in the fourth quarter, but the Trojans thwarted a Buffalo charge by shooting a near flawless 9-for-10 at the free-throw line.
Facing Class 3A Top Five ranked Hesston, Trojans coach Darrel Knoll knew his team would have to capitalize on every opportunity to cut down the Swathers.
Not only that, but Hillsboro would have to contend with Hesston’s two-headed monster of Zach’s — Vogt and Esau — along with the inside presence of 6-5 post Cole McCreary.
In a showdown between two of the state’s top teams in their respective classes, too many empty possessions, combined with problems inside, thwarted the Trojans’ bid for a tournament title.
The Swathers trio of McCreary, Vogt, and Esau combined for 37 as top-seeded Hesston ground out a 53-41 win to drop Hillsboro to 11-2 on the year.
“Early on we had some shots we just rushed,” Knoll said. “Defensively, we played well enough to win; we just couldn’t put the ball in the basket. I’m happy with how hard the guys are playing, the big thing is we need to do is getting things to go our way.”
In one of the season’s lowest shooting outings against arguably their toughest opponent to date, Hillsboro had to rely on its defense to keep the Swathers from blowing the lid off.
Hesston’s presence inside was big early with McCreary supplying four of his game-high 15 points in the opening 2:00 of the contest, leaving the Trojans facing an uphill battle.
Despite shooting 25 percent the first quarter and the entire game, Hillsboro countered with the trio of Elias Werth, Darian Ratzlaff, and Preston Loewen to stay in the game, down just 10-5 after one.
Even with the Swathers suffering through their toughest quarter shooting — 3-for-10 — Hillsboro got no closer than 3 after a pair of free throws from Elias Werth with 4:12 until halftime.
Hesston went on to outscore the Trojans 10-6 for a 23-15 lead with Hillsboro putting up a frigid 17 percent.
Ratzlaff and Loewen combined for 22 with 11 apiece, including back-to-back treys in a span of 20 seconds to get the Trojans to within 28-23 in the third quarter.
Hesston used a 9-0 run to basically finish the Trojans, pushing the lead to 37-23 with 2:19 still left in the third.
The Swathers crushed the Trojans battling for rebounds, 36-21, and dominated 18-1 in second chance points, with McCreary getting nearly half of his 15 off of put backs.
The second-seeded Trojans advanced to the final game Friday with a 51-41 semifinal win over Republic County.