In terms of memorable drama, the Hillsboro boys’ basketball team saved the best for last - the very last minute of the very last game of this COVID-19 shortened season. Down 60-55 with just under a minute to play, the team rallied for an improbable 62-61 victory on Monday evening, March 8, in the Topper gym. The victory earned the Toppers a 9-0 record in the South Central Conference, the outright title (Pana is 7-1 with one game left), and an unblemished 14-0 season.
The title is the first conference crown since the 1998-99 season when the Dyke Buerkett-coached team was 30-0 before losing to Carmi White County in Supersectional play at EIU in Charleston and the first undefeated team in school history. The 14 wins this season moved Coach Joe Vanzo into fourth place in the all-time wins category. Joe Fearherlay leads that list with 365; Buerkett had 226, Stan Horst 168, Vanzo has 149, and Harland Scheibal 138.
Pana came to town constructed much like the Toppers: two quick junior guards, Collin Schmitz and Brenden Schoonover, and three forward types, 6’3” senior Lane Funneman, 6’4” senior Andrew Ambrose, and 6’4” junior Kyle Kuhn. That gave them a slight height advantage, and their bench was taller and deeper. When Topper Gavin Matoush went down with an injured knee with 5:10 left in the first half, the Toppers were down 20-15, depending on a gritty defense to keep them close. When Matoush had to be helped off the court, the team’s leading rebounder and second leading scorer was gone; the offense had to adapt to playing without his steady dependability.
The defense held Pana to nine second quarter points, but the offense could only muster nine of their own (field goals by Will Christian, Jace Tuetken, and Blake Malloy and three of four free throws by Drake Vogel, who was hounded defensively by the Panthers.) Pana had three treys in the first half, two by Funneman; Tuetken had the only Topper trey, and Hillsboro trailed 26-20. That lead seemed insurmountable under the circumstances.
The circumstances changed. Hillsboro had a big offensive third quarter (26 points) as Vogel created his own shots driving to the basket, either scoring or drawing fouls. Christian scored on a fast break to begin the half; Tuetken hit another trey to follow that, and the six point deficit was down to one. Vogel had three field goals and was five of six from the free throw line; by quarter’s end Hillsboro was ahead 46-44.
The last quarter became a battle of the guards; Schmitz scored ten for the visitors as they built a 55-50 lead late. The Toppers’ Adison Pollard was inserted to foul Panthers, though, and they missed three crucial free throws down the stretch. Leading 61-60 late (two free throws by Tuetken and a trey from downtown by Vogel were instrumental in the rally), the Panthers inbounded the ball under the Topper basket with a court-length heave toward their basket. Vogel leaped to intercept it behind the intended receiver; he had time to dribble through traffic to the right side of the arc on his half of the court before he passed to Malloy, who had alertly scampered to the ball-side block.
Malloy’s defender had come out to challenge Vogel, so once he caught the pass, he made a layup to put Hillsboro ahead, 62-61. Pana only had time for a desperation shot before the Topper celebration began.
Pana’s defense was good, but the Toppers still shot 51% from the field (Malloy was four of four, Tuetken three of four, and Matoush and Christian two of three each). Vogel (20), Tuetken (14), Blaze Helton (10), and Malloy (10) were in double figures. Vogel had five rebounds, Christian four; and Tuetken had six of the Toppers’ 13 assists. Vogel was credited with two other steals, with the last the most important one.
Plan to see two Panther/Topper games next season; for opposite reasons, neither team will forget this one. Had Pana won, the conference title would have been theirs, and the record of the two rivals (the first game was in 1920) would have been 89-89.
Topper season statistics will be published soon; football starts at Roxana next Friday, March 19.
March 8 at Hillsboro
Pana 17 9 18 17 61
Hillsboro 11 9 26 16 62
Pana (61) - Collin Schmitz 18, Brenden Schoonover 14, Andrew Ambrose 12, Kyle Kuhn 9, Lane Funneman 8.
Hillsboro (62) - Drake Vogel 20, Jace Tuetken 14, Blaze Helton 10, Ian Malloy 10, Gavin Matoush 4, Will Christian 4. Totals: 21-41 16-23 62.
Three-point field goals: Pana 3 (Funneman 2, Kuhn 1); Hillsboro 4 (Vogel 2, Tuetken 2).
Records: Pana (10-3, 7-1); Hillsboro (14-0, 9-0).
Pana 20 14 27 12 73
Hillsboro JV 7 14 6 13 40
Hillsboro JV (40) - Adrian Harston 10, Deklan Riggs 8, Landon Summers 5, Mitchell Lowe 4, Adison Pollard 4, Payton Brown 3, Dylan Lessman 2, Elliott Lentz 2, Dillon Devlin 2.
Three-point field goals: Hillsboro JV 4 (Riggs 2, Summers 1, Brown 1).
Record: Hillsboro (0-3).
South Central Conference Boys Basketball
1. Hillsboro 9-0
2. Pana 8-1
3. Greenville 7-2
4. Roxana 6-3
5. Vandalia 5-4
6. Gillespie 3-6
6. Southwestern 3-6
8. Carlinville 2-7
9. Litchfield 1-8
9. Staunton 1-8