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The Falcons pull away late thanks to a Jace Norton three and a series of final minute free throws.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Hilhi's Vincent Felder blocks a shot during the Spartans' game against La Salle Friday, Feb. 22, at La Salle Prep.It wasn't pretty, but the No. 8-ranked La Salle Falcons boys did what they were supposed to do against Hillsboro Friday night, Feb. 22 — win.

The Falcons kept the pesky Spartans at bay for the bulk of the contest, then pulled away late for a 52-38 Northwest Oregon Conference win on Senior Night at La Salle Prep.

Hillsboro — who played without star player Nate Smith for the bulk of the game due to a first half injury — played tough throughout, never trailing by more than seven points and pulling to within three early in the fourth quarter, before La Salle used a Jace Norton 3-pointer and a series of free throws to put the game away in the waning minutes of the contest.

"We did well," said first-year Spartan head coach Mark Ganter. "We didn't back down all game, but we just couldn't get over the hump."

Smith — who left the game early in the second quarter — scored four points, grabbed two rebounds and blocked a shot before suffering what was said to be a pinched nerve when he came down hard on his hip following a lay-in attempt. Ganter said the loss of the 6-foot-5 forward was obviously a factor, but praised his team for fighting despite the loss of their junior floor general.

"When Nate went out, they didn't panic or get scared, they just started playing basketball."

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Hillsboro's Elliot Hildner goes up for a lay-in during the Spartans' game against La Salle Friday, Feb. 22, at La Salle Prep.La Salle post Alex Boyd noted the loss of Smith when asked about his team's second-half comeback, but attributed the bulk of their success to a heightened level of defensive intensity.

"Not having their big man, who's a major part of their team and a good athlete, definitely made their team less," said Boyd. "But I think the real difference in the fourth quarter was we maintained the ball better and started boxing out. A lot of our energy comes through our defense, so when we start playing better defense it gets our offense going and we get in a flow."

La Salle jumped-out to an early 5-1 lead, but watched as Hillsboro fought back to within 11-10 at the end of the first quarter thanks to three consecutive 3-pointers; one by Smith and back-to-back trey's by freshman guard Elliot Hildner. The Spartans took a brief lead when Kane Kiaunis scored to open the second, but a quick three by La Salle's Ian Simmons put the Falcons back on top, and they'd stay there as the two teams traded blows en route to a 22-18 halftime edge.

The second half started a lot like the first, with Hillsboro getting within two on a couple separate occasions and cutting the lead to three, 36-33, on three straight free throws from Lane Smith 1:20 into the fourth quarter. But after a Falcons timeout, followed by two consecutive failed Spartan possessions, La Salle's Norton hit a big three, then watched as his teammates made seven of eight free throw attempts to put La Salle ahead 46-33 and snuff-out Hillsboro's upset bid.

"We played a lot better in the second half than we did in the first, but ultimately I thought it was a solid effort," Boyd said.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Hillsboro's Nate Smith goes up for a lay-in during the Spartans' game against La Salle Friday, Feb. 22, at La Salle Prep.And it was especially memorable due to it being the senior's final regular season game in the gym and on the court that he's called home since his first varsity game two years ago.

"It meant a lot," he said of the Senior Night win. "It's kind of been in the back of my mind since I was a sophomore on varsity, so it was a cool experience and one I'll probably never forget."

Meanwhile, Ganter had nothing but good things to say about his kids in defeat, noting the strides they've made since they last played the Falcons nearly a month ago.

"Absolutely, I'm proud of these kids," Ganter said. "The other time we played La Salle they were shorthanded, but they had those guys tonight, and with those guys in there they're a better team and we didn't flinch."

With one game left on the schedule, a home game versus Milwaukie, the coach is excited for their Senior Night and one last shot at a "W" in 2019.

"I'm very excited for the Milwaukie game," said the coach. "We want to send our seniors off with a win and it should be a good game. We're going to let it all hang out."

Hillsboro was led by Hildner who scored nine points, while senior Vincent Felder added eight.

La Salle's Norton scored 14, while Justin North had 10 and Nolan Grogan added eight points and seven rebounds.

The Spartans' game with Milwaukie is scheduled for Feb. 26, at 7:15 p.m. at Hillsboro High School.

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