WEST SALEM — The third time was a charm for coach Scott Egan’s Hillsboro girls basketball team.
After a pair of regular season losses to Scenic Bluffs champion Bangor, Egan’s Tigers solved the puzzle last Thursday night, upsetting the Cardinals 59–52 in a WIAA Division 5 sectional semifinal at West Salem.
Sophomore Sydney Johnson scored 12 of her team-high 20 points in the second half to lead the Tigers to victory and the program’s second sectional final berth in school history.
The win snapped Bangor’s 10-game winning streak as the Cardinals finished the season 24–2.
“It was a great feeling to see the girls beat a team that they had lost to twice this year,” said Egan. “We played them tough the last time we met, and we really thought we should’ve won that game. It was great to get another shot at them and come out on top in it.”
The game was a back-and-forth affair throughout.
Senior Destiny Shore’s buzzer-beating three-pointer at the end of the first half sent Hillsboro to the locker room with a 24–23 lead.
Both teams traded punches throughout the second half. Each time, the opposition countered.
Hillsboro took a 49–44 lead with four minutes to play on a driving layup by Mackenzie Sullivan, but the Cardinals battled back.
Bangor senior Alea Fortier buried her third 3-pointer of the game to pull the Cardinals within a point at 53–52 with 1:30 left. Fortier finished with a game-high 23 points.
The Cardinals were forced to foul and Shore came up clutch making six straight free throws down the stretch to seal the seven-point victory. Hillsboro made 16 of 20 free throw attempts (80 percent) in the game.
Shore finished with 11 points and three assists. Johnson had six rebounds, four steals and two blocks to go along with her 20 points.
Senior Morgan Huntley added 13 points and four boards. Classmate Mackenzie Sullivan chipped in nine points, three assists and two steals.
“The key to our win against Bangor was running them off the 3-point line, and making them shoot shots on the move,” said Egan. “They are a great catch and shoot team, and we needed to make them feel uncomfortable.
“We also did a great job slowing down Emma Wittmerhaus. We made an adjustment by putting Sydney on her and fronting her in the post. The last big key was looking to attack the basket instead of settling for jump shots. We shot 21 threes last game [against Bangor], which is a lot for a team that isn’t strong doing so. Because we stayed aggressive, we were able to get there bigs in foul trouble which was big down the stretch.”
Barneveld 66, Hillsboro 34
Two nights later Hillsboro’s thrilling ride through the postseason came to a halt with a 66–34 loss to top-ranked, two-time defending state champion Barneveld in a D5 sectional final at Richland Center High School.
“Barneveld and us were at very different points going into that game,” admitted Egan, whose team rallied to upset Independence in overtime to win the regional title a week earlier. “For Barneveld, it is win a state championship or bust. For us, we had to upset two teams just to get here. I think the moment caught us a little off guard to start, and against a team of that quality, they’ll hit you hard.”
Barneveld (27–0) scored the first 10 points of the game and never looked back.
Senior guard Hannah Whitish, a Nebraska recruit, scored 27 of her game-high 32 points in the first half as the undefeated Golden Eagles raced out to a 37–14 halftime advantage.
“The toughest thing about Barneveld was figuring out a way to stop Hannah Whitish without putting the rest of the defense in bad position,” said Egan. “Hannah is a great player, but they also have a lot of help around her. We actually did a nice job holding all the other girls in check, but Hannah was just on in this game, and it is difficult to guard a girl when she was feeling it like she was.”
Whitish made six 3-pointers in the game, just two nights after being held to 11 points in a 67–30 win over Potosi.
Barneveld is 109–3 with four state tournament appearances, two state championships, and one state runner-up finish so far during Whitish’s four-year varsity career.
“We defended her as well as possible. Most of her shots were from well beyond the 3-point line, we didn’t send her to line much (she was 2 for 2 from the line), and she didn’t score many of her points in the paint. She was just having one of the days that great players have on occasion.
“She was incredible most of the game. She is probably the best female player I’ve seen live in high school girls basketball.”
Junior Teegan Pickarts finished with 13 points and junior Mia Whitish added 11 for the winners.
Johnson scored a team-high 13 points and grabbed four rebounds to lead the Tigers.
Huntley finished with eight points and five boards in her final game for Hillsboro.
Also playing in their final game were Sullivan, Shore, Brittany Borchardt, April Thornsen and Alexis Mathis.
The Tigers finished 20–7 overall after going 9–5 in the SBC to place third behind Bangor (24–2, 13–1 SBC) and Brookwood (19–5, 11–3).
“The season as a whole was a lot of fun,” said Egan. “Our girls grew a lot as a team. We would not have been able to accomplish what we did if we would’ve had the same attitudes as we did at the beginning of the year.
“It is a proud moment as a coach when you see your team buy in to everything you’ve been talking about and see it pay off. It’s a group I’ll never forget and a run that I’ll never forget.”
Barneveld advances to state for a fourth straight year and will now face Clayton (26–1) in a Division 5 semifinal at 9:05 a.m. on Friday.