Few teams have been better than the Hillsboro girls over the last month. Unfortunately on Saturday, March 6, the Lady Hiltoppers ran into one of those few teams.
The Hiltoppers had their 11-game win streak and South Central Conference title hopes dashed on Saturday with a 45-22 loss to Southwestern, who themselves were on a 10-game win streak going into the game, including eight straight South Central Conference victories.
Throw in a senior-laden lineup (four in the starting five) playing in their final home game and the fact that it was Coach Steve Wooley’s final game in Piasa as well, and it was a recipe for success for the Birds.
Southwestern jumped out to a 12-5 lead after eight minutes and led 27-11 at halftime. They continued to tack on points in the second half, outscoring the Hiltoppers 12-7 in the third and 6-4 in the fourth to come away with the 23-point win.
The loss was only Hillsboro’s third of the season, after starting the year with losses at Rochester and Greenville by a total of five points. With just six home games this season, the Hiltoppers have been road warriors, winning seven straight as the visiting team before running into the Piasa Birds.
Rylee Smith led Southwestern with 14 points, followed by Josie Bouilon with 10, Hannah Nixon with nine, Corrie Hopkins with eight and Annie Galaher with four. Of the five who scored, four are seniors, with Nixon the only one scheduled to be back for her senior year.
The conference championship was Southwestern's 18th in girls basketball and their first since 2016.
Layne Rupert paced Hillsboro with eight points, while Sierra Compton, Haley Major and Nikya Harston all had three each. Alex Frailey and Vanessa Compton added two apiece, while Claire Tester finished out the scoring with a free throw.
Vandalia and Gillespie
Just to get the opportunity to face Southwestern with the title on the line the Hillsboro girls had to defeat two solid South Central Conference foes on March 3 and March 5.
In Wednesday’s game at Vandalia, the Hiltoppers overcame a slow start to pull out a 48-39 win over the Lady Vandals.
The Vandals held Hillsboro to 17 first half points as the score stood tied after two quarters. The Toppers broke free in the third quarter though behind Layne Rupert, who scored 11 of Hillsboro’s 17 points in the third quarter.
Doubling up their point total allowed Hillsboro to take an 11-point lead over the Vandals going into the fourth quarter, a quarter that turned into a free-throw shooting contest for Hillsboro.
The Toppers went to the charity stripe 14 times in the final eight minutes and made nine of their chances to hold off the Vandals by nine points.
Layne Rupert would lead all scorers with 15 points behind her strong third quarter, while Nikya Harston added in ten and Claire Tester finished with nine. The two seniors went 9-of-11 from the free-throw line in the game, including a 6-of-7 clip in the fourth quarter.
Haley Major (six), Alex Frailey (five) and Vanessa Compton (three) also scored in Hillsboro’s tenth win of the season.
Win number 11 would be even closer for the Lady Hiltoppers as Gillespie put a scare into the home team with a 44-43 Hillsboro victory on March 5.
The Hiltoppers survived a 20-point first quarter by the Miners in which Keaton Link scored eight points for Gillespie. Hillsboro countered with 14 points of their own, getting nine from Nikya Harston, then held the Miners to single digits in the other three quarters.
Still, Gillespie led 26-25 at halftime, forcing the Toppers to come back in order to keep their win streak alive.
They would do just that, outscoring Gillespie 11-8 in the third quarter and 8-7 in the fourth to improve to 11-2 on the season and 7-0 in the South Central Conference.
Nikya Harston led all scorers with 16 points. Six of Harston’s points came from the free-throw line as the senior forward went 6-of-10 from the stripe.
Layne Rupert would add in nine points, while Claire Tester contributed seven. Haley Major added in six points, hitting a pair of first half threes, while Alex Frailey (four) and Sierra Compton (two) rounded out the scoring.
Keaton Link paced the Miners in the hard luck loss with 12, followed by Grace Bertolino with 11.
While their championship hopes may have ended, Hillsboro can still take sole possession of second place with a win at Pana on Monday, March 8. The team’s final game this season is scheduled for Thursday, March 11, against Tri-City in their final home game of the 2021 campaign.
March 3 at Vandalia
Hillsboro 9 8 17 14 48
Vandalia 6 11 6 16 39
Hillsboro (48) - Layne Rupert 15, Nikya Harston 10, Claire Tester 9, Haley Major 6, Alex Frailey 5, Vanessa Compton 3. Totals: 16 13-19 48.
Vandalia (39) - Bailey Stewart 14, Madyson Hill 9, Anna Forbes 8, Gracie Pruett 4, Zoe Satterthwaite 4. Totals: 15 6-8 39.
Three-point field goals: Hillsboro 4 (Rupert 2, Major 1, Compton 1); Vandalia 3 (Stewart 2, Hill 1).
March 5 at Hillsboro
Gillespie 20 6 8 7 43
Hillsboro 14 11 11 8 44
Gillespie (43) - Keaton Link 12, Grace Bertolino 11, Sydney Bires 7, Shelby Taylor 5, Emily Schoen 4, Mikala Hayes 4. Totals: 18 2-2 43.
Hillsboro (44) - Nikya Harston 16, Layne Rupert 9, Claire Tester 7, Haley Major 6, Alex Frailey 4, Sierra Compton 2. Totals: 16 9-17 44.
Three-point field goals: Gillespie 5 (Bertolino 3, Taylor 1, Bires 1); Hillsboro 3 (Major 2, Rupert 1).
March 6 at Piasa
Hillsboro 5 6 7 4 22
Southwestern 12 15 12 6 45
Hillsboro (22) - Layne Rupert 8, Sierra Compton 3, Haley Major 3, Nikya Harston 3, Alex Frailey 2, Vanessa Compton 2, Claire Tester 1.
Southwestern (45) - Rylee Smith 14, Josie Bouillon 10, Hannah Nixon 9, Corrie Hopkins 8, Annie Gallaher 4.
Records: Hillsboro (11-3, 7-1); Southwestern (11-1, 9-0).