It isn’t wise to predict the outcome of a varsity basketball game by watching the junior varsity contest, but those entering the Pana High School gym to encounter the Panthers can gain insight by watching the preliminary game.
Pana’s younger team was 16-0 when Hillsboro’s date with them began on Friday night, Feb. 14. Not extremely tall, they were extremely quick, using 2-2-1 full-court pressure to force turnovers (16) which they converted into quick baskets; they led 45-27 by halftime. Hillsboro’s freshman/sophomores/ and one junior competed hard before losing 66-47. Eight Panthers scored in the first half.
The varsity game became a repeat of the first, except even worse from the Topper’s viewpoint; 11 Panthers scored as they seemed interchangeable. Senior Lucas Holthaus started on Senior Night in place of junior Andrew Ambrose, and Holthaus scored nine points. None of the Panthers had an apparent weakness, offensively or defensively, practice scrimmages in the Pana Gym must be highly competitive, a coach’s dream.
Hillsboro’s varsity had 13 points at halftime, the hosts had 43. The Toppers had a decent third quarter when Nic Ondrey had his eight points. (Drake Vogel’s two three’s were all Hillsboro could produce in the second quarter; he led the team with 10), but Pana’s third quarter was a bit better as Jonah Lauff’s seven helped them to 19. Thus, the lead was 31 entering the last quarter, so it was continuous clock/gain-varsity-experience -time for the benches. Pana won that quarter, 17-3, with Brady Meier’s three accounting for the Toppers’ points.
Pana leads the conference with a 7-0 mark; Hillsboro dropped to 2-5. The Panthers were 23-4 overall heading to Newton on Saturday night; Hillsboro was 9-19 as they completed the away portion of the regular season.
For Hillsboro Saturday afternoon’s (Feb. 15) match against the Auburn Trojans was the classic jumping from the frying pan in the fire example. Even though the game was in Hillsboro, it was the Toppers who were burned by a visibly taller and perhaps more athletic five.
Auburn came to town for the matinee performance minus their leading scorer, 6’4” Connor Tripp, who was present with a cast on his hand. Based on their game performance, the Trojans didn’t miss him much. 6’3” senior Luke Hunley had four treys among his game-high 23 points; 6’2” junior Justin Tanner worked underneath for 22, and the visitors’ fast pace carried them to a 74-51 win.
Jace Tuetken’s ten first quarter points (he had a team high 18) kept the Toppers in contention for the first period, but a weak second quarter offensively (only seven points after a Trojan 10-0 run) and a disasterous fourth quarter defensively (28 points) brought the Toppers their 20th loss of the season.
Tuetken, Nic Ondrey (13), and Gavin Matoush (12) were the only Toppers in double figures; Drake Vogel with six and Ethan Lentz with two also scored. Auburn had seven hit the scoring column. Spencer Rikas with 10, including three treys, joined Hunley and Tanner in double figures, while Payton Krager came close with nine.
Matoush, despite a size disadvantage underneath, had 10 rebounds to lead Hillsboro in that category and to reach double/double status; Ondrey had seven boards. Vogel led the Toppers in two categories as he had three assists and four steals.
The junior varsity game produced the most excitement in the Toppers’ gym Saturday as freshman Will Christian’s drive to the hoop with 2.1 seconds to play broke a 53-53 tie to top off a Topper comeback. Auburn led 33-26 at halftime as junior Hunter Newbold had 15 points, but the Trojans settled for three point attempts in the third quarter when the Toppers outscored them 20 to 12 to gain the lead by one.
Newbold led all scorers with 21 points, but Hillsboro had four in double figures: Christian with 14, Bryce Connor and Blaze Helton with 13, and Ian Malloy with 12. Zane Duff had the other 3. The Topper junior varsity is 7-7 for the year, with two games to play; Auburn dropped to 6-9.
The final week of the regular season lies immediately ahead of the Toppers, who have a chance to gain needed momentum heading into regional play. Today, Tuesday, Feb. 18, the Toppers host the Piasa Southwestern Birds; Friday, Feb. 21, Litchfield’s Purple Panthers come to town. Both evenings start with a j.v. tipoff at 6 p.m. Hillsboro has yet to play Piasa, while they lost to Litchfield 69-57 in the Carlinville Holiday Tournament on Dec. 28 before defeating their arch-rivals 82-76 on Jan. 20, in the Rick McGraw Invitational Tournament. The 82 points is the high watermark for Hillsboro offensively in 2019-2020.
The Toppers open regional play in Gillespie on Monday, Feb. 24, at 7 p.m. when they face the host Miners.
February 14 at Pana
Hillsboro 7 6 18 3 34
Pana 18 25 19 17 79
Hillsboro (34) - Drake Vogel 10, Nic Ondrey 8, Gavin Matoush 8, Jace Tuetken 5, Brady Meier 3. Totals: 11-43 7-9 34.
Pana (79) - Jonah Lauf 15, Bryce Edmiston 13, Lucas Holthaus 9, Drake Spracklen 9, Colin Schmitz 8, Wes Kile 7, Andrew Ambrose 6, Kyle Kuhn 5, Brandon Schoonover 3, Drew Hackler 2, Lane Funneman 2.
Three-point field goals: Hillsboro 5 (Vogel 2, Tuetken 1, Ondrey 1, Meier 1); Pana 9 (Lauff 3, Schmitz 2, Edmiston 1, Spracklen 1, Holthaus 1, Schoonover 1).
Records: Hillsboro (9-19, 2-5); Pana (23-4, 6-0).
February 15 at Hillsboro
Auburn 18 15 13 28 74
Hillsboro 16 7 12 16 51
Auburn (74) - Luke Hunley 23, Justin Tanner 23, Spencer Rikas 10, Payton Krager 9, Dylan Kavish 4, Reece Conway 3, Hayden Smith 3.
Hillsboro (51) - Jace Tuetken 18, Nic Ondrey 13, Gavin Matoush 12, Drake Vogel 6, Ethan Lentz 2. Totals: 21-60 7-7 51.
Three-point field goals: Hillsboro 2 (Tuetken 1, Ondrey 1); Auburn 10 (Hunley 4, Rikas 3, Conway 1, Krager 1, Smith 1).
Records: Hillsboro (9-20), Auburn (19-9).