The Hillsboro girls basketball team defeated St. Helens 50-30 Wednesday night, June 9, at Hillsboro High School, but this game was less about where two teams were, and more about where they'd been and where they're going beyond it.
"It's weird," Hillsboro head coach Sara Harsin said. "Everything's weird, but we're getting better and the two main things are to be a great teammate and improve, and that's what the season's about."
St. Helens' Kyle Brayton agreed with Harsin, and despite another defeat and a record no coach would be happy with, the first-year Lions (0-8) head coach said his team is learning and getting better despite the wins to prove it.
"There are definitely some good signs that we're seeing," Brayton said. "I think the younger girls are getting valuable varsity experience on the court, and we're getting more comfortable. Our turnovers aren't as much of a problem, and we're just working on simple things like passing, rebounding and shotmaking. Those are things I'm proud of."
Neither team shot the ball particularly well in the first half, shooting a combined 25% from the field.
The Spartans (4-5) led 11-5 after a quarter and built a double-digit lead midway through the first half following a Margaret Shively three-pointer en route to a 24-11 edge at the break.
Shively was one of six Hillsboro players to score in the opening half, and one of nine Sparts to score in the game, including all six seniors on what was the Spartans' "Senior Night." Harsin was pleased by that, speaking highly of a group that's been a part of a lot of Hilhi wins over the past four seasons.
"I love the seniors," said Harsin, who has also been the Hillsboro varsity head softball coach the past three seasons. "This is huge for them. We didn't get that (Senior Night) in softball last year due to COVID, and that was devastating for a lot of the kids. I'm glad they got the opportunity to play and have some normalcy to have a night like this."
Hillsboro used a full-court press in the third quarter, along with the sharpshooting of Shively and Dylan Kem, to build a 36-13 lead after three quarters.
Too late, St. Helens got things going in the final stanza, putting 14 points on the board with a far more relaxed offensive approach.
Brayton said that's not been uncommon. The coach said his team has often started games slowly and they've addressed it as a group, but on this night, he chose to try some of the reserves down the stretch.
"I told the starters that I was going to put in our bench and see if we can get some looks," Brayton said. "They started to get layups and some closer looks, and they realized that we can get better looks if we run the offense and get closer to the rim. We sometimes settle too much for outside shots and are picking up our dribble on the outside. I want them to do more dribble-driving and cutting to the basket."
In the end, while a win for Hillsboro, this was a game, and really a season, more about the chance to play for a group of kids who weren't sure they'd get the chance.
"I'm really just excited for the kids," Harsin said. "This is an opportunity for some normalcy and a chance to compete for their school — and that's enough."
Hillsboro scorers included: Shively 12, Kem 11, Ismerio 7, Morolt 4, Tapley 4, Webb 4, McCrea 3, Lierman 3, Placher 2.
St. Helens scorers included: Vanderwerf 10, Reardon 8, Opdahl 3, Keefe 3, Barley 2, Blazek 2, Gray 2.
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