Even before the finish of the Carlinville/Greenville girls basketball game, the Hillsboro Lady Hiltoppers knew to even have a chance at the conference title they would have to beat Southwestern first. On Thursday, Feb. 6, the Toppers did their part, beating the Piasa Birds 51-41, and were rewarded for their efforts.
Carlinville’s 34-30 victory over Greenville, coupled with wins by Hillsboro and Pana (over Vandalia) on Thursday, created a logjam atop the South Central Conference final standings as all four teams ended the year with a 7-2 record and a share of the conference title.
For Hillsboro, it marks the first time the Lady Hiltoppers have won consecutive titles since the 2006-2007 season, which capped a three-year run of SCC crowns for the Hillsboro girls.
Thursday’s win was hardly a given though, as the Lady Piasa Birds would have loved nothing more than to throw a wrench into Hillsboro’s title hopes.
And for a half, it looked as if they might do just that as the Birds led 12-8 after eight minutes and 27-20 at halftime. But Hillsboro would put together a strong third quarter, outscoring Southwestern 16-4 in the third quarter to take a five point lead, then finishing off the run with a 15-10 advantage for the ten point win.
Coach Bret Tuetken’s club finished with three players in double figures as Nikya Harston, Claire Tester and Layne Rupert combined to go 14-for-24 from the field, a 58 percent clip.
Harston led the way with 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting, including her first three-pointer of the season and second of her career.
She would also pull down 12 rebounds to give her double-double number 16 on the season. Over 29 games, Harston is averaging 13.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.
Tester nearly joined Harston in the double-double ranks, scoring 14 points and hauling in eight rebounds, while Rupert added 12 points with a pair of three-pointers.
Haley Major and Emily Reynolds also added three points apiece, with Shelby Houchlei rounding out the scoring with two points.
With one accomplishment complete, the Toppers now focus on another, their 12th regional title. Hillsboro is the sixth seed in the sub-sectional at the Carlinville Regional, where they will face 11th seed North Mac on Monday, Feb. 10. The winner moves on to play third seeded Carlinville, who Hillsboro defeated 60-40 on Dec. 5, on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
Monday’s other first round match-up is between seventh seeded Pittsfield and tenth seeded Litchfield, with the winner playing second seeded PORTA on Wednesday.
February 6 at Hillsboro
Southwestern 12 15 4 10 41
Hillsboro 8 12 16 15 51
Hillsboro (51) - Nikya Harston 17, Claire Tester 14, Layne Rupert 12, Haley Major 3, Emily Reynolds 3, Shelby Houchlei 2. Totals: 16-40 15-28 51.
Three-point field goals: Hillsboro 4-11 (L. Rupert 2, Major 1, Harston 1).
Records: Hillsboro (17-12, 7-2); Southwestern (20-11, 5-4).