Knoll wins 4th title with Trojans outlasting Chargers, 59-50
Darrel Knoll began transforming Hillsboro into a basketball town 30 years ago during his third season at the helm of the high school boys team.
The Trojans captured their first of four state championships in 1991 thanks to stellar play from a legendary tandem of greats, Eric Jones and Craig Duerksen, and a strong supporting team.
Knoll coached the boys to a second straight title four years later, and a third in 1998. That team had another Trojan great, Micah Ratzlaff.
Knoll picked up his fourth championship Saturday in the final game of the Class 2A state tournament at Manhattan’s Bramlage Coliseum with Hillsboro outlasting the Wabaunsee Chargers, 59-50.
“I am so happy for our players,” an ecstatic Knoll said. “The team has been resilient all year, their competitive edge and tough mentality led to our 23-3 record, our ability to finish strong the last two games, and this 2A state championship.
“Our defensive intensity was able to take teams out of their rhythm and force tough shots all year. We only allowed 41.8 points per game, and forced 17.8 turnovers.”
During Knoll’s tenure, the Trojans also have grabbed second-place finishes in 1992, 1997, and 1999. They finished third in 1996, and 2003 and 2004. Hillsboro qualified in 2014 and 2017, but the team never made it past opening day.
This season, COVID-19 dealt the Chargers a gigantic blow dropping 10 of their first 11 games due in part to not having enough players. Wabaunsee entered the postseason at a hardly intimidating 7-12.
One of Wabaunsee’s wins was a 48-40 victory back in February against the team Hillsboro had to get through Thursday to set up the title game, the Lyndon Tigers. Hillsboro defeated them 51-45.
The Chargers got hot at the right time, blowing out top-seed and top-ranked Hoxie in the semifinals, for the Indians’ first loss, 73-56, despite 36 points from 7-foot 300-pound behemoth Harlan Obioha.
But shooting north of 60 percent from the floor isn’t easy to duplicate like the Chargers did against Hoxie, and the Trojan defense swarmed on Wabaunsee right out of the gate.
The Trojans forced 14 turnovers, 8 coming from thefts, keeping Wabaunsee off balance while opening an 18-10 lead after the first quarter, and yielding 36 percent from the floor on the night.
During Hillsboro’s 23 wins and three losses this season, the Trojans’ three-headed monster of Brekyn Ratzlaff, Matthew Potucek, and Grayson Ratzlaff, did the most damage.
Grayson’s father, Damian, was a key player on Knoll’s first title team. Seven year’s later, Brekyn’s dad, Micah helped lead the Trojans to victory, along with his uncle, Tyson.
Potucek scored a team-high 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting, Brekyn added 16 points, and Grayson finished with a double-double of 14 points and game-best 11 rebounds.
Wabaunsee woke up in the second quarter, though, slowing down Hillsboro’s ball-movement which made it appear as though the Trojans would run away with it.
Cade Oliver scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half, and the Chargers were gaining on the Trojans by halftime, down just 31-27, shooting 38 percent from the floor.
Brayden Meseke scored a game-high 22 points for the Chargers, 15 the second half, and Wabaunsee was still in the game heading into the final stretch, down 42-38, while limiting Brekyn to just three points.
Hillsboro put the game away the fourth quarter, outscoring the Chargers, 17-12, shooting 49 percent for the game, and a scorching 52 the second half.
The Trojans got nine less attempts at the free-throw line, but 6-9 the second half, and 9-12 overall, was enough to keep the Chargers at least two possessions behind the entire game.
Hillsboro also dominated rebounding largely in part of Grayson, 33-25.
The Trojan senior trio of Dillon Boldt, Tristan Reed, and Carson Linnens wrapped up their careers, going out on top.
“I am tremendously proud of the seniors and happy for them — being state champions is a great way to end a high school career,” Knoll said.
“Each of them made key contributions to our success and have improved each year they were in our program. I will miss coaching them and am sure they will do well in whatever they choose to do”.
With Hillsboro’s big three returning in 2022, and the Chargers only losing two seniors, the two should figure to be in the thick of the title chase again next year.
Last modified March 17, 2021