Trojan boys repeat, crushing St. Mary's for 5th state title, 60-32
There’s little Hillsboro High School boys’ basketball coach Darrel Knoll hasn’t done in 33 years at the Trojan helm.
He’s won well over 500 games and bagged four state titles. He’s finished in the state’s top three a trio of times as well as finishing as runner-up twice.
He’s coached three players that went on to gain Class 3A player of the year honors.
There was one thing that had been eluding Knoll and the Trojans heading into Saturday’s title game of the Class 2A state tournament at Manhattan’s Bramlage Coliseum against second-ranked and third-seed St. Mary’s Bears.
The Trojans never had been able to repeat as state champions.
The Trojans couldn’t do it 30 years ago with former standout Craig Duerksen. A tart third quarter allowed the Holcomb Longhorns to foil Hillsboro’s bids.
Four years later, it was coach Mitch Fiegel, Maurice Evans, and Wichita-Collegiate that cancelled a second state title for Hillsboro in the semifinals en route to the Spartans’ second in three years.
Tragedy struck again in 1999 with an infamous buzzer-beating three by Belleville’s Tony Hoops, ruining Hillsboro’s perfect season in the title game.
That finally changed, and all it took was one quarter Saturday, with the Trojans going on to smother the Bears, 60-32, to repeat as the Class 2A state champions and garner Hillsboro’s fifth title.
The Trojans earlier had to survive a stalling effort by eventual third-place Lyndon in two overtimes, 34-26, possibly creating concern about a fatigue factor for the title game.
The Bears, meanwhile, had knocked off top-seeded and unbeaten Valley Falls, 80-69.
The Trojans’ game plan against the high-powered Bears was simple. Eliminate threes, run St. Mary off the line, and rebound to create transition baskets.
They did just that right out of the gate, erupting for an 18-3 first-quarter explosion that left the Bears in a hole they never dug out of.
Defense has been the key to the Trojans’ championship run, and every time the Bears got a shot, it was with a Hillsboro defender in their face, holding St. Mary to a frigid 23% overall, and 20% the first half.
The harassment led to rebounds that were kicked out to the Trojans for transition baskets, and Hillsboro dominated the Bears on the glass, 28-17, with Grayson Ratzlaff grabbing a game-high 10 to go along with eight points.
Hillsboro burned St. Mary for a scalding 67% shooting the first half, and 80% in the second half, for a blistering record 72% overall.
Anytime St. Mary’s leading scorer, junior Keller Hurla, got the ball, Brekyn Ratzlaff was there to alter his shots.
The same thing went for 6-7 post Fred Criqui, whom Grayson smothered the entire game.
Brekyn scored a game-high 20 points and dished out a game-best five assists amidst being named as the tournament’s most outstanding player.
Matt Potucek made his final game in a Trojan uniform a memorable one, scoring 17 points, and outdoing St. Mary in scoring by tallying 12 points by himself in the first half.
Potucek neutralized Noah Jefferson, limiting the 6-4 senior to a modest six points, and joined Brekyn and Grayson on the all-tournament team.
Hillsboro kept its foot on the gas, racing to a 31-10 lead at halftime, knocking the Bears down for the count and sealing a fifth state title.
Knoll emptied his bench with the game well at hand in the fourth quarter, pulling seniors, Grayson, Potucek, Duncan Duell, Jaxxon Hanschu, and Frank Wichert, who was honorably mentioned on the tournament team as well.
“I am so proud of this team,” an exuberant Knoll said. “Defensive intensity and great teamwork defined us. They were so much fun to coach and to watch.
”I often talk about competitive greatness — be at your best when your best is needed. The players on this team did that.”
Hillsboro’s final mark of 24-1 ranks as one of the two most successful Knoll has had.
The Trojans’ sole loss was to the Hesston Swathers, who also repeated as champions in Class 3A.
With the books closed on the 2021-’22 season, the Trojans’ team of this year should live on as one of the greatest Hillsboro has had.
Last modified March 16, 2022