Trojans salvage split
The Sterling Black Bears have had a knack for being a perennial nuisance for Hillsboro Trojan basketball teams.
Sure the Hillsboro boys won the Class 2A state title a year ago and were a semifinalist before COVID wiped out the 2020 tournament. But the Black Bears also were a semifinalist and have had the Trojans’ number the last two years.
Switch to Trojan girls and coach Nathan Hiebert’s luck with Sterling has been even worse.
The boys finally snapped two years of grief to the hosting Black Bears, 48-30, in Friday’s season opener, but Sterling remains a speed bump for the girls, who fell to Class 2A’s top team and defending state champion, 51-32.
Hillsboro is in action this week competing in the annual Moundridge preseason tournament with games against Inman, Moundridge, and Lyons.
It wasn’t the prettiest game, but it’s a safe bet the Trojans will take a road win against the pesky Black Bears anytime.
Despite a stagnant start, the Trojans were the pesky ones this time. Hillsboro’s defense turned Sterling over 19 times, creating offense with easy baskets for 15 points off turnovers.
The Black Bears hung around in the first half, canning their only pair of threes on the night and breaking even until Tyson Plenert buried one for Hillsboro to go up 22-19 at the break.
Grayson Ratzlaff scored a game-high 12 points to go along with a game best seven rebounds, throwing down a dunk on a transition basket.
The Trojans burned Sterling for 12 points on fast breaks while denying the Black Bears anything in transition and yielding a cold 30% from the floor.
Thirty of Hillsboro’s 48 points came inside the paint, with Ratzlaff disrupting Sterling from getting anything easy inside.
Frank Wichert added 11 points and Matt Potucek added eight, supplying clutch baskets in every quarter to keep the Black Bears playing from behind.
Tumbling to a team like the Black Bears isn’t necessarily a step backward for the Trojans, especially considering Sterling returns everyone from last year’s state champion team, the luck Hillsboro’s had, and being the first game.
Toss in the fact the Trojans’ entire starting lineup was wiped out by graduation, and the sky isn’t falling.
But you’re not going to beat a team the caliber of the Black Bears if you can’t put the ball in the basket — which the Trojans simply could not do Friday.
The lead changed hands one time. Hillsboro was playing uphill the rest of the way, trailing by as many as 28 with 4:00 left in the game.
The Trojans already were in choppy seas by halftime, trailing 34-20, and shooting a frigid 23% from the floor. The third quarter insured Hillsboro’s misery with Sterling would continue with the Trojans going scoreless.
Hiebert knew his team would have to play phenomenal transition defense and be strong on the boards for a chance, but that never came.
The Black Bears’ Bennie Horsch scored a game-high 13 points, several coming on fast breaks. Twelve more points and a game-high eight rebounds came from 6-4 freshman Lilly Gray, allowing Sterling to whip the Trojans in rebounding by a comfortable 53-33 margin.
Hillsboro narrowly outscored Sterling the fourth quarter, 12-9. However, it was moot, with the Trojans well out of striking distance from woeful 2-for-20 shooting the second half and 17% overall.
The sophomore duo of Savannah Shahan and Zaylee Werth combined for 21 of Hillsboro’s 32 points, paced by Shahan’s team-high 12.
The Trojan wrestling team kicked off its season Thursday, competing in double duals in Hillsboro against Minneapolis and Halstead.
Better days will be ahead for Hillsboro, but both the Lions and the Dragons emerged victorious by 42-36 and 42-27 scores.
In the first dual against Minneapolis, Hillsboro was 6-for-13 in wins. Garrett Helmer, a 152-pound senior; his 170-pound classmate, Tristan Rathbone; and the 195-pound Lane Rogers were the only Trojans to complete the dual unbeaten.
Hillsboro went 5-for-11 against Halstead with a quartet of open matches.