HILLSBORO — Alma/Pepin gave top-ranked Hillsboro all it could handle Saturday.
The Tigers closed the game on a 22–9 run to hold off the Eagles in a WIAA Division 5 regional final at Hillsboro High School.
“It was a great feeling for the kids,” said Hillsboro head coach Curt Hildreth. “This is a hard regional in a hard sectional that we are in now. Alma had that look like we did last year. They are a talented team that was playing well together at the end of the year. In the end, I think having home court advantage played a key role for us. It was a game that could have went either way.
Senior Joe Helgerson made four first-half 3-pointers to reach 1,000-career points and stake the Tigers to a slim 32–29 lead.
Alma/Pepin rallied behind the shooting of 6–1 guard Ben Mueller and took a 46–45 lead with 7:32 remaining on a Cole Engstrand turnaround jumper.
Mueller finished with a team-high 19 points and made three of the Eagles’ nine 3-pointers.
“They shot the ball well even for a good shooting team like they are,” said Hildreth. “They have a lot of good players on the floor and they were all hitting shots so we couldn’t really key on one player, but Mueller is the guy that gave us problems. Every time we left him, he made us pay.”
Helgerson and senior Max Stockwell made back-to-back shots as the Tigers regained the lead, and Stockwell’s 3-pointer with four minutes to play pushed the lead to five. Hillsboro closed out the game going 6 of 10 from the free throw line and finished 19 of 31 from the charity stripe in the game.
“We went inside and got to the line quite a bit,” said Hildreth. “It was a very physical game. They refs were letting them play. When we scored inside we earned it, that’s for sure.”
Stockwell finished with a game-high 26 points (18 in the second half) on 8 of 12 shooting and six rebounds. Helgerson added 20 points, three boards and two assists.
Fellow senior Hunter Stanek added seven points and a season-high 16 rebounds. Classmate Ethan Thorson also scored seven points.
Hillsboro advances to face Scenic Bluffs rival Bangor (22–3) in a Division 5 sectional semifinal tonight at La Crosse Central at 7 p.m.
The Tigers, who have now won 12 straight games, defeated Bangor 74–64 on Jan. 15, then again 64–61 on Feb. 18.
“Bangor is a very good team and they are very well coached,” said Hildreth. “We’ve had a couple of good battles with them this year. Both teams will know what to expect. There won’t be any surprises. I expect it to be a game that comes down to the wire, and I hope our experience in big games like this comes through.”
The winner of tonight’s game will advance to face either Seneca (23–2) or Barneveld (21–4) in the La Crosse Logan Sectional final Saturday at 7 p.m.
Hillsboro 76, Granton 47
Hillsboro opened the playoffs with a 76–47 win over 16-seed Granton (3–20) last Tuesday night.
Helgerson and Stanek each scored 14 points to lead four Tigers in double figures. Helgerson added four assists and two steals, while Stanek pulled down five rebounds.
Thorson made 5 of 7 shots and finished with 12 points. Stockwell finished with 12 points and nine rebounds.
The Tigers scored 49 first-half points and led by 21 at the break.
Mike Metta scored a game-high 23 points to lead the Giants.
Hillsboro 66, Augusta 47
Friday night, Tyler Crandall scored a team-high 13 points as Hillsboro hammered eighth-seeded Augusta (9–15), 66–47.
Tommy Crandall added 12 points and Stockwell finished with a double–double of 12 points and 14 rebounds.
The Tigers led 39–19 at the half and were never really threatened.