The bank was open late in Carlinville on Monday, Feb. 10, as Vanessa Compton dropped in a three-pointer off the backboard with 2:30 to play to give Hillsboro a 42-39 lead in their regional game with North Mac.
Compton’s trey would be a big momentum swing for the Toppers, who had trouble shaking the 11th seeded Panthers from early moments of the game. The three not only broke the tie with North Mac, but it also sparked an 11-3 run by Hillsboro, who advanced to the second round with a 50-42 victory.
The Toppers would strike first in the game with a two from Claire Tester, but the Panthers showed the innate ability to fluster the Hillsboro ball handlers and get to the hoop. North Mac would score eight of the next ten points to take a 9-4 lead, before back-to-back baskets by Shelby Houchlei and Emily Reynolds cut the margin back to one.
North Mac rallied again though, getting baskets from Melanie Gist and Brooke Meador to carry a 13-8 lead into the second quarter.
It looked as if Hillsboro would make its move to take over the game early in the second quarter, after Nikya Harston and Meador traded baskets to keep it a five point game. Houchlei and Tester scored first, followed by back-to-back baskets by Harston as Hillsboro took its first lead since the opening minute with an 18-15 advantage.
The momentum came to a halt moments after Harston’s second basket, when Mallory Buhl was fouled on a three and hit all three free throws to tie the game. The two teams would trade baskets down the stretch as the Toppers clung to a 24-23 halftime lead.
Again it looked as if Hillsboro might make a run in the third quarter to put down the Panthers, but two baskets by Harston were answered with two by Meador, who more than held her own against the Topper post defense.
While Hillsboro was unable to get free of the Panthers, North Mac wasn’t able to distance themselves from the higher seed either as the Toppers outscored the Panthers 5-4 in the final six minutes of the quarter to maintain a 33-31 lead.
Meador would up her scoring total to 14 with a bucket underneath 40 seconds into the fourth quarter, but neither team would score again until Layne Rupert broke the 33-33 tie with a basket at the 5:50 mark.
Rupert and the Panthers would go back-and-forth over the next two minutes as the Hillsboro freshman would score six straight to give Hillsboro a 39-36 lead at the midway point of the quarter.
Down three, North Mac would try to work the ball inside and was rewarded with trips to the free-throw line. Melanie Gist would cut the lead to two with one charity toss, while Meador knocked down two more to tie the score at 39 with three minutes to play.
With just two points by her name to that point, Vanessa Compton drilled a three off the backboard 30 seconds later, a shot that seemed to reinvigorate the Toppers on the floor and on the bench.
The Panthers would come up empty in their five trips down the floor, with Hillsboro drawing fouls on the other side of the court. Nikya Harston would hit a pair of free throws, while Claire Tester went 4-for-4 from the line to build up a 48-39 lead.
Kylee Kazenski would finally break North Mac’s streak of five and a half minutes without a field goal on a three with 15 seconds to play, but Hillsboro would sew up the contest with a free throw each from Tester and Shelby Houchlei to clinch the spot in the semifinals.
Nikya Harston would lead Hillsboro with 16 points, followed by Tester with 12, Rupert with eight and Houchlei and Compton with five each. Emily Reynolds also had four key points in the first half, when the Toppers were having trouble finding ways to score.
Brooke Meador would lead all scorers with 19 points, while Mallory Buhl and Melanie Gist added eight and seven respectively.
The win, Hillsboro’s 18th of the season, earned them a shot at third seeded Carlinville on Wednesday, Feb. 12, at 7:30 p.m. The two South Central Conference foes played earlier in the season on Dec. 5, with Hillsboro handing Carlinville one of their three losses on the season in a 60-40 affair.
The winner of Wednesday’s game will meet the winner of the early semifinal between PORTA and Pittsfield in the regional championship at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14, in Carlinville.
Feb. 10 at Carlinville
Class 2A Carlinville Regional
Hillsboro 8 16 9 17 50
North Mac 13 10 8 11 42
Hillsboro (50) - Nikya Harston 16, Claire Tester 12, Layne Rupert 8, Shelby Houchlei 5, Vanessa Compton 5, Emily Reynolds 4. Totals: 19 11-16 50.
North Mac (42) - Brooke Meador 19, Mallory Buhl 8, Melanie Gist 7, Kylee Kazenski 5, Alli Kallenbach 2, Gatlyn Etter 1. Totals: 16 8-12 42.
Three-point field goals: Hillsboro 1 (Compton 1); North Mac 2 (Kazenski 1, Buhl 1).
Records: Hillsboro (18-12); North Mac (6-22).
Class 2A Girls Basketball
Monday, February 10
Game 1: #7 Pittsfield 42, #10 Litchfield 28
Game 2: #6 Hillsboro 50, #11 North Mac 42
Wednesday, February 12
Game 3 at 6 p.m. - #2 PORTA vs. #7 Pittsfield
Game 4 at 7:30 p.m. - #3 Carlinville vs. #6 Hillsboro
Friday, February 14
Game 5 at 7 p.m. - Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4