Since the 1998-99 season, when Hillsboro downed Nokomis 64-45, the Hiltopper boys basketball team had a record of 1 win, 22 losses when playing the Nokomis Redskins (the lone win came in the 2014-15 season when the Toppers prevailed 46-41). Given that history, the current Toppers had to feel a hint of trepidation as they traveled east on Rt. 16 Saturday evening, Feb. 20, for the next renewal of the rivalry that began in 1907.
This year’s version had a chance to be different; the Toppers were 5-0, coming off a dismantling of a veteran Roxana team the night before. Nokomis was 4-2 and racked with personnel issues -- four roster members were in quarantine because of being exposed to COVID-19, and the person expected to be the floor general injured a knee in the season opener and may miss the rest of this abbreviated season.
The Nokomis team, though short-handed, still played hard, though. The 1-2-2 zone press will be problematic for a team without good ballhandlers, and any team that counts on interior scoring may be disappointed because Nokomis defends the point area ferociously. Offensively, Ben Clavin and Kendall Knodle shoot the ball well from the outside and Jake Johnson aggressively burrows to the basket inside. They are a worthy opponent.
That makes Hillsboro’s 70-56 victory all the sweeter for Hillsboro folks. The game was closer than the score might indicate, though; to win the Toppers followed two age-old maxims to combat a zone while shooting extraordinarily well. One maxim is to move the ball down the floor before the zone can set; the other is to shoot over it. It also helps to have a player be insanely successful; for the Toppers that player was Drake Vogel, who connected on 10-of-11 lay-ups off fast breaks, three of which he initiated by stealing passes, and 6-of-7 bombs from behind the arc to finish with 39 points, seven off of Mark Frailey’s school record set in 1969.
In the first quarter Vogel had 12 of the Toppers 17 points. Will Christian also swooshed a three, and Gavin Matoush made two of two free throws. Clavin and Knodle had early treys for Nokomis, though; it was 20-20 with 7:04 left in the half.
Then Blaze Helton made a jumper in the lane; Jace Tuetken and Vogel scored on fast breaks; it was 26-20 and the Toppers, behind Vogel’s hot hand (27 points in the half) raced to an 11 point halftime advantage.
A Tuetken trey opened the second half to key an 8-2 Topper run that removed most doubts about the ultimate outcome though Nokomis (behind Clavin, Seth Johnson and Jake Johnson - who played through foul trouble for much of the fourth quarter) won the last quarter 20-15.
The shooting statistics for Hillsboro as a team were mind-boggling; they made 69% of attempts inside the arc, 56% behind the arc for a composite of 57%. Add 10-of-12 (83%) from the free-throw line and the wow factor increases. They were guilty of only 11 turnovers (that too is spectacular against the Redskin press).
Matoush had eight of the team’s 17 rebounds; more impressively, the team had 18 assists on the 26 baskets -- Christian and Helton had five each, Tuetken four. Equally impressive was the Topper man defense which committed only six team fouls.
This season continues tonight (Monday, Feb. 22) when Carlinville appears for a triple-header (freshman begin at 4:30, with J.V. and then varsity action to follow). Wednesday the teams travel to Greenville. Both dates count in South Central Conference standings.
Ben Clavin would lead Nokomis with 18 points, fresh off a career-best 22 the night before against Mt. Olive, while Jake Johnson added 15 and Kendall Knodle and Seth Johnson chipped in nine each.
The Redskins host East Alton-Wood River on Monday, Feb. 22, followed by another home game against Springfield Lutheran the next day.
February 20 at Nokomis
Hillsboro 17 18 22 13 70
Nokomis 14 10 11 20 55
Hillsboro (70) - Drake Vogel 39, Gavin Matoush 11, Jace Tuetken 9, Blaze Helton 6, Will Christian 3, Bryce Connor 2. Totals: 24 9-11 70.
Nokomis (55) - Ben Clavin 18, Jake Johnson 15, Seth Johnson 9, Kendall Knodle 9, Ryan Eisenbarth 2, Nolan Himes 2. Totals: 24 1-4 55.
Three-point field goals: Hillsboro 8 (Vogel 6, Tuetken 1, Christian 1); Nokomis 6 (Clavin 4, Johnson 1, Knodle 1).
Records: Hillsboro (6-0); Nokomis (4-3).