The Litchfield Purple Panthers came into Hillsboro’s gyms having missed the first four dates on their schedule (because of COVID-19 quarantine); a very young squad (five freshmen, four sophomores, three juniors, and three seniors comprise the varsity roster) may have also contributed to their 0-4 record in the games they played after returning to action.
Hillsboro, on the other hand, had raced to an 8-0 start, scoring 527 points while holding opponents to 378. It was also the Toppers’ senior night, usually an incentive for the home team.
However, anyone expecting Litchfield to roll over and surrender easily discounted at least four factors: any competitor wants to play the best; visitors like to beat the home team to spoil senior night; there is glory in handing any team its first loss; and it’s always tough to pick the winner of any rivalry game.
The Panthers played hard despite their record; after several futile trips by both teams into their offensive ends, Hillsboro’s Will Christian opened the scoring with a field goal. Working against the Toppers’ half-court man, Blaine Stewart’s trey put the visitors ahead. Hillsboro’s lone senior, Jace Tuetken, slashed through the Panthers’ 2-3 zone for a lay up as he was fouled; it was 5-3 when he connected. It remained 5-3 as the first mask time-out came; both offenses seemed stymied. 4:13 remained in the first quarter period.
When play resumed, Blaze Helton scored for the Toppers; then a Bryce Connor trey made it 10-5. Panther Bryce Himes swished a three for the visitors, though (10-8) and followed with a field goal (10-10). Reserve big man Ian Malloy broke the tie with a rebound basket and added one of two free throws to give the Toppers a three point lead (Malloy scored 26 of the Toppers’ 49 points in their 72-49 loss in the junior varsity game).
The Panthers had a young answer of their own. Freshman Keenan Powell scored 13 points in Litchfield’s freshman game win and 19 in the J.V. game; his trey to open the second quarter tied the varsity game.
Finally at mid-quarter Tuetken hit his first long shot; he added four more points before half as did Helton and Drake Vogel as Hillsboro pulled ahead 29-21.
Vogel found his shooting touch early in the third quarter, and the Topper defense held Litchfield scoreless for the first six minutes of the second half. As a result, the Toppers went on a 17-0 game deciding run. The fourth quarter was running clock, and the relief on the Topper sideline was evident in the 67-36 win.
The key to Hillsboro’s win was consistent with the first eight wins: balanced scoring (four starters were in double figures, with Tuetken’s 16 leading the pack); a good assist (19) to field goal (25) ratio; a relatively high field goal percentage (25 of 45); quick hands on defense; and a physical rebounding presence (Gavin Matoush recorded 12, Helton 8, Vogel 7, and Malloy 4).
Fourteen players saw floor time for Litchfield and nine scored, but only two (Blaine Stewart and Carson Saathoff) tallied as many as six.
February 26 at Hillsboro
Litchfield 10 11 9 6 36
Hillsboro 15 16 23 15 67
Litchfield (36) - Blaine Stewart 6, Carson Saathoff 6, Bryce Hires 5, Keenan Powell 5, Jordan Harris 4, Jace Stewart 4, Clayton Bishop 2, Chase Hires 2, Jeremie Yakana 2.
Hillsboro (67) - Jace Tuetken 16, Blaze Helton 12, Gavin Matoush 12, Drake Vogel 10, Will Christian 7, Ian Malloy 7, Bryce Connor 3.
Three-point field goals: Litchfield 4 (B. Stewart 2, B. Hires 1, Powell 1); Hillsboro 5 (Vogel 2, Christian 1, Tuetken 1, Connor 1).
Records: Litchfield (0-4, 0-3); Hillsboro (9-0, 4-0).
Litchfield JV 18 20 14 20 72
Hillsboro JV 10 8 16 15 49
Litchfield FR 12 12 10 11 45
Hillsboro FR 4 8 10 15 33