After waiting three months for the season to start, how was the Hillsboro girls basketball team rewarded? How about four straight road games to start the 2021 season with games against two tough Sangamon County squads (Rochester and Auburn) and two South Central Conference foes (Greenville and Staunton).
After falling in their first two tests by a total of five points, the Hiltoppers finished strongly with back-to-back double digit wins to end the stretch of away games and even their record at 2-2.
After losing to Rochester by two in their season opener on Feb. 8, the Toppers turned around and had to take on Greenville in their next contest on Wednesday, Feb. 10. As was the case against the Rockets, the Toppers had a chance to tie at the buzzer, but weren’t able to get the equalizer to fall as the Comets came away with a 49-46 victory.
Greenville led 13-9 after eight minutes, getting five points from Lilly Funnemann, but Hillsboro came back to outscore the Comets 14-11 in the second quarter and cut the Greenville lead to 24-23.
Vanessa Compton, Nikya Harston and Haley Major each had five points in the first half for Hillsboro, while Alex Frailey led the team off the bench with six points.
Hillsboro would take the lead in the third quarter, with five different players finding the bottom of the net, led by Claire Tester with four.
Up by two going into the fourth quarter, Hillsboro looked to hold on to their 35-33 lead as they continued to work their inside-outside game with Harston and Tester in the post and Major, Compton and Layne Rupert in the backcourt.
The Comets had other ideas though as they got seven points from Natalie Iberg to escape with the win. Iberg would go 4-of-5 from the free-throw line, while the Comets went 7-of-9 from the stripe in the fourth quarter.
Free throws and three-pointers would be a big part of the Comets’ win as they made fewer field goals (19 to 17), but had two more threes and five more free throws than Hillsboro.
Lilly Funnemann would have two of Greenville’s five threes to lead the Comets with 14 points, while Hillsboro was led by Nikya Harston with 11 points.
While Harston was the only player in double figures for Hillsboro, five other players scored at least four points as Vanessa Compton added nine, Layne Rupert and Haley Major had eight each, Alex Frailey chipped in six and Claire Tester finished with four.
Hillsboro 61, Auburn 8
After two close calls to start the season, Hillsboro dominated a good Auburn squad 61-41 on Feb. 11, for their first win of the season.
Whether it was inside or outside, it worked for the Toppers in the first quarter. Haley Major and Layne Rupert both hit threes, while Claire Tester and Nikya Harston cleaned up anything missed as Hillsboro had seven offensive rebounds in the first eight minutes.
With Rupert scoring five and Tester and Harston combining for seven, Hillsboro carried a 17-8 lead into the second quarter.
The trend continued in the second quarter as Hillsboro crashed the boards to Tester and Harston’s benefit. The senior tandem scored 13 more points in the second quarter, sparking a 20-9 advantage for the Toppers in the quarter and giving Hillsboro a 37-17 first half lead.
After a fairly quiet four-point first quarter, Auburn’s 1,000 point scorer Marley Smith came alive for the Trojans. The junior forward scored 22 points in the second half as the Trojans tried to cut into the Hillsboro lead.
Unfortunately for the hosts, the rest of the team would score just two points in the final two quarters and Hillsboro continued to play well. Both teams would score 24 points after halftime as the Toppers collected the 20-point win.
Nikya Harston would finish with 20 points, in addition to a double digit rebounding total, while Claire Tester also beat the boards and scored 14 points.
Layne Ruppert added in ten points, while Vanessa Compton (eight), Haley Major (five), Kenadie Carlock (two) and Alex Frailey (two) also etched their name in the scorebook.
Hillsboro 47, Staunton 29
The Toppers finished off the weekend with another decisive victory, beating Staunton 47-29 on the Bulldogs’ home court.
While Hillsboro’s post players have been a big part of their success so far this year, the first half belonged to the guards for Hillsboro, namely Layne Rupert. Ruppert finished the first half with 12 of Hillsboro’s 25 points, with nine coming in the second quarter. Senior Haley Major also had four points in the half, while Nikya Harston added in six from the post.
Down 25-12 at halftime, Staunton tried to keep it close in the second half, but were outscored 8-7 in the third and 14-10 in the fourth. Rupert would stay hot, finishing with 19 points to lead all-scorers in the Toppers’ 18-point win.
Hillsboro’s forwards still got their points too, with Harston adding nine and Tester contributing seven, six of which came in the second half. Haley Major (six), Vanessa Compton (two), Alex Frailey (two) and Brianna Guinn (two) would also score for the Toppers, who evened their record to 2-2 on the year.
After four straight games on the road to start the season, Hillsboro was to play their first game on Monday against Pana, but it was snowed out. On Wednesday, they’ll be back on the road with another tough South Central Conference tilt, this time against the Southwestern Piasa Birds.
February 10 at Greenville
Hillsboro 9 14 12 11 46
Greenville 13 11 9 16 49
Hillsboro (46) - Nikya Harston 11, Vanessa Compton 9, Layne Rupert 8, Haley Major 8, Alex Frailey 6, Claire Tester 4. Totals: 19 5-11 46.
Greenville (49) - Lilly Funnemann 14, Gwen Mitchell 10, Katie Campbell 10, Natalie Iberg 9, Brooklyn Suzuki 3, Abby Sussenbach 3. Totals: 17 10-15 49.
Three-point field goals: Hillsboro 3 (Major 1, Rupert 1, Compton 1); Greenville 5 (Funnemann 2, Campbell 1, Iberg 1, Suzuki 1).
February 11 at Auburn
Hillsboro 17 20 12 12 61
Auburn 8 9 15 9 41
Hillsboro (61) - Nikya Harston 20, Claire Tester 14, Layne Rupert 10, Vanessa Compton 8, Haley Major 5, Kenadie Carlock 2, Alex Frailey 2. Totals: 25 6-10 61.
Auburn (41) - Marley Smith 26, Izzy Davis 7, Krystal Bly 6, Kendal Conway 2. Totals: 17 4-7 41.
Three-point field goals: Hillsboro 3 (Rupert 2, Major 1); Auburn 3 (Smith 2, Davis 1).
February 12 at Staunton
Hillsboro 10 15 8 14 47
Staunton 6 6 7 10 29
Hillsboro (47) - Layne Rupert 19, Nikya Harston 9, Claire Tester 7, Haley Major 6, Vanessa Compton 2, Alex Frailey 2, Brianna Guinn 2. Totals: 19 6-12 47.
Staunton (29) - Haris Legendre 14, Analise Best 6, Kennedy Legendre 2, Brooke Kinder 2, Taryn Russell 2, Savannah Billings 2, Caidy Tuetken 1. Totals: 13 3-6 29.
Three-point field goals: Hillsboro 3 (Rupert 3); Staunton 0.
Record: Hillsboro (2-2).