• Last modified 69 days ago (March 14, 2024)


Title hopes foiled in heartbreaker

Staff writer

The Hillsboro High School girls basketball team’s bus crawled down Main St. just after 1 p.m. last Wednesday behind a police escort. Players waved at the collection of fans gathered to send them off.

Their destination was Dodge City — a place the Trojans captured back-to-back Class 2A state volleyball titles in late October. This time, a state basketball title was up for grabs. 

The mood was different 12 hours later when the bus rolled back into Hillsboro. 

Panthers have been a nuisance to Trojans on the center stage the past two years. Wichita-Independent became the latest, spoiling Hillsboro’s bids for a title with a 39-36 crusher. 

Hillsboro’s season came to an end at 22-2. The loss marked the end for one of the Trojans’ best one-two punches in history, Zaylee Werth and Savannah Shahan. 

The tandem did all they could, combining for all but 10 of the Trojans’ 36 points behind Werth’s game-high 19 on 7-for-13 shooting from the floor.

”We had a fantastic year and a great group of girls that bought into the word ‘team’ from the very first day,” somber coach Micah Ratzlaff said. “We had great leadership from our seniors and we had a lot of fun competing at a high level the entire season.”

A painkiller for Hillsboro is that the Panthers eventually captured their first state basketball title, crushing Wathena-Riverside 58-39 in Saturday’s final. 

Hillsboro’s three-point loss was the closest an opponent came to taking down Independent. Independent also downed the Panthers who beat Hillsboro in last year’s third-place game, Pittsburg-Colgan, 48-40. 

Plenty of ominous signs were glaring at the Trojans and Ratzlaff heading into Wednesday’s contest. 

For one, the Panthers downed Hillsboro-foe Halstead, 54-41, in the second game of the season. 

It took a buzzer-beater by Werth for the Trojans to stave off a 33-31 scare from the Dragons late in the season.

Independent also whipped the Class 3A runner-up of 2023, Cheney, 71-41. All three of the team’s losses came against Oklahoma’s Class 6A Jenks, Tulsa University Prep, and Kansas’ Life Prep. 

It’s hard not to wonder what could have been had Hillsboro figured out how to get the lid off its basket. 

The Trojans frequently have won games despite shooting a cool 30% from the floor, but that wasn’t going to work against an opponent like the Panthers, especially when the stakes were the highest.

Another was that Independent had the size to counter Werth and Shahan with 6-foot all-stater Stephie Salumu and 6-2 sophomore post Denna Holmes. 

Mix in the arrival of the Panthers’ biggest weapon, freshman point guard Zoey Buckner-Franklin, and Hillsboro was in for perhaps its toughest challenge of the season.

The Trojans held Franklin eight points under her team-best 22-points-per-game average, but Hillsboro used up lots of steam trying to run the Panthers down the entire night.

The Trojans trailed trailing 15-6 early in the second quarter. 

Hillsboro outscored Independent 10-6 the rest of the way, pulling to 21-16 at halftime. 

Ratzlaff tightened up defense the second half, holding the Panthers to less than 30% shooting, compared with 44% for the game. Hillsboro cut the lead to 28-27 heading into the final quarter. 

Hillsboro could never overtake the Panthers, however, even with Werth scoring her final point of the season with 38 seconds to go made it 37-36. 

Salumu made two free throws with 11 seconds left, but Hillsboro had one last crack to force overtime. 

Amyah Werth’s three-point attempt bounced harmlessly off the rim to preserve Independent’s first state tournament win. 

Cold shooting did the Trojans in. The rest of the team, outside Zaylee went 7-for-33 from the field, and a chilly 3-for-19 from three. 

Independent used its size to beat the Trojans on the boards, 32-29, with Salumu and Holmes combining for 18. 

Also joining the Trojan duo playing their final game were Anslee Brewer and Bailee Gawith, who suffered her second ACL injury in as many years at the end of the third quarter. 

“First round at state was a tough loss and really hard to put into words besides telling the girls thank you, great job, and I’m proud of you,” Ratzlaff said. “I appreciate my assistant coaches and I appreciate all the support from USD 410 and the community along the way. It was a great year.”

Last modified March 14, 2024