At first glance few if any of those involved with the Hillsboro boys’ basketball season can be pleased with the overall 2019-2020 season. An 11-22 season doesn’t inspire “atta boy” praise from competitors. The 0-7 start could have dampened the rest of the season, especially when they averaged 39 points a game in the Kaskaskian Classic in Carlyle, The team scored 74 in an overtime loss at Shelbyville to open the season, but the Rams were bound to struggle the rest of the season, especially defensively. Though Nic Ondrey (26) and Drake Vogel (23) combined for 49 points, Hillsboro still lost. When they were outscored 246-155 in four games at Carlyle, the rest of the season looked like a long road ahead.
The rewards of playing against good competition and consistently good programs at Carlyle can be important but subtle; it points out weaknesses immediately, for one, and it allows teams to work out kinks before conference play begins. With younger teams, though, the thumping (when that happens) can be disheartening; self-doubt can creep in -- and that’s a hard though hidden obstacle to overcome.
Against teams that believed in defense, Hillsboro had trouble scoring. Hillsboro had one senior with varsity experience, but he (Ondrey) had missed half his junior season with an injury. The only junior on the squad (Brady Meier) was spirited but small, and he missed parts of the season because of injury, so the scoring support had to come from sophomores Drake Vogel and Gavin Matoush. With more experience will come growth, but when that experience has to come on the varsity level, it’ll come slowly. Beside, Matoush at 6’2” was always shorter, occasionally by half a foot, than the player he had to guard in the pivot.
The first win came against New-Berlin at the Terry Todt Shootout in Raymond on Dec. 14. The victory was both an upset and a new beginning for the Toppers; Hillsboro was then 10-15 over the rest of the season, and most of the losses were to strong opponents (Altamont, Calhoun, North Mac, Taylorville, Vandalia, Nokomis, Auburn, and Pana) before the season ended in the regional against Breese Mater Dei (in my opinion, they are the best team the Toppers faced).
Did the apparent weaknesses go away completely? No, of course not. One can’t wave a wand and become a scorer or grow overnight. However, as a team, compensations were made and competing became an identifying theme.
Freshman Blaze Helton and sophomore Ian Malloy were the leading scorers for the Hillsboro junior varsity basketball team in the 2019-2020 season. Helton totaled 194 points; Malloy had 193.
Sophomore Bryce Connor, who found his three-point touch later in the season, had 150 points; freshman Will Christian was also above 100 with 128.
Junior Brady Meier had 53 (in only 13 games), including 21 on seven treys against Nokomis. Sophomore Ethan Lentz had 41; freshman Zane Duff had 29. Freshman Addison Pollard had 12, and sophomore Tim Downen, injured much of the year, added 5.
Two others who saw spot duty, Dillon Smail - who became a varsity starter during the season - and Ethan Blankenship, used during a numbers crunch, had 35 points between them.
The junior varsity finished with a 9-8 record this season.