The Dr. Seuss quote, "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened," is easier said than done, but for fans of the Hillsboro High School girls basketball team, this weekend gave them plenty of reasons to smile.
Just hours after an emotional loss to the defending (and eventually repeating) state champions from Chicago Marshall, the Hillsboro Lady Hiltoppers saw their season come to an end with a 68-53 loss to St. Joseph-Ogden in the third place game at the IHSA Class 2A State Tournament at Redbird Arena on Saturday, Feb. 23.
" What was on the line emotionally and mentally may have been a little bit tougher to overcome than the game they were in," Coach Bret Tuetken said after the game. "I don't know if we were quite as sharp as we wanted to be, both offensively or defensively."
Hillsboro held a 7-4 lead after back-to-back baskets from Sammi Matoush but St. Joseph-Ogden answered with a 9-0 run that would give them a 13-7 lead with a minute to play. The two teams would trade baskets in the final 30 seconds as the Toppers trailed 17-11 after the opening eight minutes.
The second quarter would be a repeat of the final half minute of the first quarter, with Nikya Harston hitting a free throw and Sammi Matoush knocking down two field goals to make it 21-16 with 3:10 to play in the half.
Aubry Rupert would bring the Toppers to within two points on a three-pointer with 2:48 to play, but the Spartans went on a 7-0 run to close out the quarter and led by nine at the break, 28-19.
The late surge would give St. Joseph-Ogden momentum going into the third quarter as they rattled off the first nine points of the second half with threes by Bree Trimble and Maclayne Taylor, plus an old fashion three-point play by Trimble as well.
Hillsboro got as close as 15 with baskets by Sammi Matoush and Maci Blankenship, coming on either side of two free throws by the Spartans' Katie Cramer, but St. Joseph-Ogden closed out the quarter on another big 8-0 run to make it 46-23 after three quarters.
With his team facing one of its largest deficits of the season in its final game, Coach Tuetken encouraged his players to regroup before the fourth quarter.
"I told them after the third quarter to put those 24 minutes behind us and just play these eight minutes for these eight minutes and let's see what we can do," Coach Tuetken said. "They did that and went out there and let their shots fly and they started going in all of the sudden. I think they played a little bit more relaxed and we had a good fourth quarter."
Hillsboro would outscore the Spartans 30-22 in the final frame, with Sammi Matoush 16 of her team-best 31 points in the fourth quarter. Hillsboro would get as close as 15 in the final minutes, but the waning moments were more about getting the underclassmen the opportunity to play on the big stage at Redbird Arena and celebrating the accomplishments of the five seniors on this year's squad.
"They have been a huge part of this program for four years and we have appreciated everything they have done and the hard work that they have put in," Coach Tuetken said after the game. "It's going to be a tough act to follow for future Hiltoppers."
The gravity of ending their careers at the state tournament wasn't lost on the seniors, who finish their careers with a four-year varsity record of 97-32, the second most wins all-time behind the class of 2007.
"Some of these guys I've been playing with since third grade and they are literally my best friends," said Sammi Matoush. "It was very special because most teams don't get the opportunity like this."
Matoush's fellow senors Aubry Rupert, Sheridan Lyerla, Kylie Meier and Jade Scroggins echoed their teammate's words at a reception held for them on Sunday afternoon, each taking time to thank their parents, younger teammates and the fans who invaded Redbird Arena and gyms all across central Illinois throughout the season.
"It really touched all of our hearts to have you there cheering for us," Scroggins said.
Coach Tuetken also thanked all of those who have joined the Toppers on their journey to state.
"From regionals on, the crowds have been amazing," Tuetken said. "You gave us energy when we needed it."
Tuetken also introduced the players and thanked others for their support in making this year's state run possible.
As the reception came to an end, players spoke with fans and family members, signing autographs for the next generation of Lady Toppers who will grow up emulating their heroes from this year's team.
With the high school gym in use, the reception was held at the Hillsboro Junior High gym, where most first caught a glimpse of the potential that this year's senior class had. Six years earlier, the five seniors, who stood shoulder to shoulder, arms around one another on Sunday, were just seventh graders en route to their first of two IESA state championships.
While the five, and the other players and coaches as well, will go on their separate paths, they will forever be linked by the fond memories of this magical season. The games are over, but the smiles? The smiles are just beginning.
February 22 at Normal
Class 2A State Tournament
3rd Place at Redbird Arena
Hillsboro 11 8 4 30 53
St. Joseph-Ogden 17 11 18 22 68
Hillsboro (53) - Sammi Matoush 31, Aubry Rupert 9, Nikya Harston 6, Jade Scroggins 3, Claire Tester 2, Maci Blankenship 2, Kylie Meir 0, Sheridan Lyerla 0, Emily Reynolds 0, Haley Major 0, Vanessa Compton 0, Maddy Rupert 0. Totals: 20-51 6-9 53.
St. Joseph-Ogden (68) - Bree Trimble 28, Peyton Crowe 13, Maclayne Taylor 11, Hannah Dukeman 6, Katie Cramer 5, Abby Behrens 2, Taylor Barnes 2, Payton Vallee 1. Totals: 25-48 14-21 68.
Three-point field goals: Hillsboro 7-25 (Matoush 4, Rupert 3); St. Joseph-Ogden 4-10 (Crowe 1, Trimble 1, Taylor 1, Cramer 1).
Rebounds: Hillsboro 23; St. Joseph-Ogden 35. Turnovers: Hillsboro 14; St. Joseph-Ogden 15. Steals: Hillsboro 9; St. Joseph-Ogden 8.
Records: Hillsboro (29-7); St. Joseph-Ogden (29-5).