NEILLSVILLE — John Koopman’s Hillsboro Tigers showed girt and determination throughout the second half of last Thursday’s Division 5 sectional semifinal game against Cochrane–Fountain City.
The Tigers rallied from a 16-point third-quarter deficit to force overtime, but ultimately came up one point short 57–56 in the extra session, in what was the most gut-wrenching loss of Koopman’s 14 years as Hillsboro’s head coach.
Third-seeded Cochrane–Fountain City (20–7) went on to defeat Barneveld (20–7) 54–44 two nights later in the La Crosse Logan sectional final to earn a berth in the WIAA Division 5 state tournament. The Pirates will face Thorp (16–9) in Thursday’s D5 state semifinals at 3:15 p.m.
Meanwhile Hillsboro finished a successful season 21–5.
“This was the toughest loss of my coaching career,” said Koopman. “I can only imagine what it is like for the boys. I have never been so proud of how a team played and conducted themselves. Eventually, they will remember this game but they will focus on the celebration at Bangor instead.”
Hillsboro struggled offensively in the first half and fell trailed 27–15 at the break.
A few quick baskets early in the third quarter and C–FC had built a 33–17 lead.
Hillsboro began chipping away at the lead behind the three-headed attack of Brandon Stanek, Matt Anderson and Max Stockwell.
The Tigers outscored the Pirates 16–5 over the final five minutes of the third quarter to pull within five points at 38–33.
Hillsboro kept chipping away in a back and forth final period and trailed by a point with seven seconds remaining.
Stanek took it the length of the floor and missed a contested shot with less than two seconds remaining.
But fellow senior Matt Anderson grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 0.7 seconds remaining attempting a game-winning putback.
Anderson’s first shot was probably just short.
“So here he is, one shot with the game, the season, and his career on the line,” said Koopman. “And nothing but net. That was probably the most clutch shot I have seen in a long time.”
In overtime Hillsboro built a quick three-point lead, but turned the ball over and with good free throw shooting and hitting a couple 3-pointers C–FC pulled ahead by one, 55–54.
By this point, Hillsboro was without Stanek, who fouled out on a very questionable loose ball foul at half-court earlier in the overtime.
Sophomore Joey Helgerson gave the Tigers a 56–55 lead when he hit a driving lay-up —only his second basket of the game — with 10 seconds remaining.
After a time-out, C–FC got the ball to freshman Mason Baecker in the right corner. Baecker drove into the middle of the lane and made a contested right-handed scoop shot with his back to the basket with 1.9 seconds left.
Hillsboro’s final 3/4 court desperation attempt by senior Grant Jefferies hit the ceiling. Game over.
“I am so proud of this team,” said Koopman. “To beat a team like Bangor in the regional final, then be down 16 points in the third quarter against C–FC and rally to take it to overtime really shows a lot of heart and character. They played their guts out.”
Anderson finished his final game in a Hillsboro uniform with a game-high 18 points and six rebounds. Stanek scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds before fouling out. Stockwell 15 points on 6 of 9 shooting and grabbed a team-high 14 rebounds.
Senior guard Cale Lisowski scored a team-high 15 points to lead Cochrane–Fountain City. Senior forward Dillon Geiger added 12 points.