As often happens when Hillsboro and Litchfield compete in a high school basketball game, the Purple Panthers’ 61-60 win on Friday night, Feb. 21, had something for everyone.
If anyone in the place was a casual fan with only a passing interest in the game itself, he/she could enjoy the excitement generated by a Topper fourth quarter comeback; Litchfield was ahead by 11 (54-43) with 5:20 to play. With 10 seconds left, Hillsboro had a 60-59 lead and momentum. For the basketball purist, the contest had too many flaws - the teams combined for 40 turnovers and missed 12 free throws, nine by the Toppers.
Among the Panther turnovers were ten blocked shots; Topper guard Drake Vogel recorded half of those. A flurry of blocks early in the contest helped the Toppers to their four point advantage at quarter’s end, as did Vogel’s three treys and 11 points. He made three of his first four long range attempts. John Corso, though, scored seven of his game-high 25 in that first quarter to keep Litchfield close; Corso’s scoring output presented match-up problems for the Topper defense which concentrated on guards Brady Bishop and Blaine Stewart.
It was Hillsboro who had to play stay-close ball in the second quarter as Litchfield enjoyed treys from Stewart and Corso to snag a 17-16 lead. Only Nic Ondrey’s free throw mitigated the damage as Stewart and Corso (this time on a drive) made it 22-17, forcing a Topper time out 87 seconds into the quarter.
Ondrey with seven more points and Gavin Matoush with four cut the Panther lead to a more manageable 29-27 at halftime; Corso had 17 at the break. It wasn’t a simple “Stop Corso; stop Litchfield” formula as it might have seemed at first glance, though.
Stewart and Blake McGill each had treys to account for half the visitors’ points before the next quarter break, but turnovers and fouls prevented a real offensive flow for either team. The Topper offense came from Matoush moving around the Panthers’ defense in the pivot for eight of Hillsboro’s 12 as again the Toppers had to recover from a 41-35 deficit to stay within two.
An unsung hero for Litchfield in the last quarter was Anthony Boston, their 6’3” center. Content for most of the game to pass the ball from the post to a wing to facilitate the ball movement that opened the perimeter for shooters like Stewart and Bishop, Boston contributed an old-fashioned field goal plus one to complete a 6-0 run with 5:20 to play. That put Hillsboro behind 52-43 and sparked dismay among the Topper faithful.
After a time out, though, Hillsboro stormed back.
Five consecutive Vogel points (a trey and an offensive rebound basket) made it 55-52, Litchfield, with 3:20 to go. Corso drove, flipping the ball in successfully from a seemingly impossible angle, but Ondrey had a plus one effort of his own to restore hope for Hillsboro. A Vogel basket tied it at 59; Ondrey made the second of his two free throws to give Hillsboro a 60-59 lead, their first one since early in the second quarter, with 30 seconds left.
Then it was Bishop’s turn to shine. Fouled in a scramble with seconds left, the Lincoln Land recruit who had four points until that point in the contest stepped to the line and first tied the game and then made Litchfield fans ecstatic with the game winning point.
The Panthers finished the regular season at 10-20, 2-7 on the South Central Conference. Tuesday, Feb. 25, they face Breese Central in the Gillespie Regional.
The Toppers finished the regular season with a 10-21 record, 3-7 in the South Central. They enter Regional action today, Monday, Feb. 24, against Gillespie in Gillespie.
Hillsboro’s junior varsity ended their season on a positive note, downing Litchfield 44-37, 9-8 for the year (if one considers a short-version season opening 32-29 loss at Shelbyville), Hillsboro won four of their last five games.
Against Litchfield Ian Malloy had 13 points, followed by Bryce Connor (11), Will Christian (9 - 7 in the decisive last quarter), Blaze Helton (8), Brady Meier (2), and Ethan Lentz 1.
Litchfield contributors were Emilio McGill (12), Bryce Hires (7), Emiliano McGill (6), Cameron Crow (5), Chase Hires (4), and Gavin Thimsen (1).
February 21 at Hillsboro
Litchfield 11 18 12 20 61
Hillsboro 15 12 12 21 60
Litchfield (61) - John Corso 25, Blaine Stewart 17, Brady Bishop 6, Blake McGill 5, Austin Niehaus 5, Anthony Boston 3. Totals: 22 10-15 61.
Hillsboro (60) - Drake Vogel 18, Gavin Matoush 18, Nic Ondrey 15, Jace Tuetken 9. Totals: 22-52 12-21 60.
Three-point field goals: Litchfield 7 (Stewart 5, McGill 1, Corso 1); Hillsboro 4 (Vogel 4).
Records: Hillsboro (10-21, 3-6); Litchfield (9-20, 2-7).
Class 2A Boys Basketball
Monday, February 24
Game 1: 7 p.m. - #8 Hillsboro vs. #9 Gillespie
Tuesday, February 25
Game 2 at 6 p.m. - #4 Breese Central vs. #11 Litchfield
Game 3 at 7:30 p.m. - #7 Staunton vs. #10 Carlinville
Wednesday, February 26
Game 4 at 6 p.m. - #1 Breese Mater Dei vs. Winner Game 1
Game 5 at 7:30 p.m. - Winner Game 2 vs. Winner Game 3
Friday, February 28
Game 6 at 7 p.m. - Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5