INDEPENDENCE — It wasn’t easy, but it sure was fun.
The Hillsboro girls basketball team blew a 16-point second half lead as host Independence forced overtime with a buzzer-beating layup.
But the Tigers rebounded to win in overtime 59–55 over the second-seeded Indees in Saturday’s WIAA Division 5 regional final.
“The game on Saturday was probably the best game I’ve ever been a part of,” said Hillsboro head coach Scott Egan. “It had everything you’d want to see in a basketball game. I’m proud of my girls for fighting through everything that happened and being able to come out with a win. It was definitely well earned.”
Hillsboro dominated the first half, and looked like they may just have too many weapons for the Dairyland–Small champions to contend with.
The Tigers built a 28–16 halftime advantage and pushed the lead to as many as 16 early in the second half.
However, Independence (19–5) started playing like a team with nothing to lose.
“They began hitting on all cylinders, especially from the outside,” said Egan.
After Hillsboro held senior forward Morgan Speitz to just six first-half points, the high-scoring wing exploded for 15 in the second half and Hillsboro struggled to defend her inside-outside game.
The Indees eventually come all the way back and take a one-point lead in the game with about five minutes left in the game.
Independence clung to a one-point 46–45 lead in the final minute and Hillsboro was forced to foul.
Tessa Bragger was unable to connect on the front end of a one-and-one.
Hillsboro senior guard Destiny Shore missed a potential go-ahead three-pointer on the other end, but the rebound ended up in the hands of senior Morgan Huntley, who gave the Tigers a 47–46 lead with a putback basket.
Hillsboro was able to create a turnover out of their press, and Independence was forced to foul with five seconds remaining.
Sophomore Sydney Johnson made the first free throw, but missed the second.
Independence was able to outlet a pass and then make a full-court pass to Lynnsey Tuschner who beat a defender and scored a layup as time expired to send the game to OT.
In the extra five-minute session, Hillsboro jumped out to a six-point lead at 58–52.
Bragger hit a deep 3 to pull Independence within three in the final minute of overtime.
Shore missed both free throws at the other, but she was able to get her own rebound off a couple deflections.
Hillsboro called timeout and was able to get Johnson the ball out of an inbound play. She hit one of two to make it a two-possession lead and seal the victory.
Johnson finished with a game-high 23 points, six rebounds and five steals.
Senior guard Mackenzie Sullivan added 14 points and a team-high 10 rebounds. Huntley had nine points and nine boards.
Shore had four points and four steals. Shelby Levy added four points and Brittany Borchardt scored three points.
“It was easily the most memorable moment I’ve had as a coach,” added Egan. “I saw the girls do everything we’ve preached since day one in this game. They didn’t hang their heads after their big lead disappeared. They didn’t hang their heads after Independence tied it at the end of regulation. They kept pushing. They wanted to win that game and were willing to do whatever it took to get it.
“It was incredible to watch, and it took every girl on our team to get that win. Just a great team victory for us.”
Egan’s third-seeded Tigers improved to 19–6 on the season and earned a rematch with Scenic Bluffs Conference champion and top-seeded Bangor.
The Cardinals (24–1), ranked fifth in the latest wissports.net coaches’ poll, defeated Royall, 50–40, on Saturday night to win their regional.
Bangor swept Hillsboro during the regular season, winning 66–52 at home on Jan. 9, then again 49–44 at Hillsboro on Feb. 11.
“I think the matchup with Bangor is going to be a great game,” said Egan. “The last time we played them, I think we showed that we are capable of beating them. It’s exciting that two Scenic Bluffs teams are this far in the tournament and one will be playing in the sectional final. I think if our girls play at the high level they have been so far during these playoffs, we will give Bangor a run for their money.”
Hillsboro 69, Augusta 57
Friday night, Huntley scored a game-high 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead the Tigers to a 69–57 victory over sixth-seeded Augusta (13–11).
Johnson posted a near triple–double of 15 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists, while Sullivan added 12 points and five rebounds.
Hillsboro 73, Granton 21
Johnson had 21 points and six boards in Hillsboro’s 73–21 regional quarterfinal win over 14th-seeded Granton (1–22) last Tuesday. In three regional games, the sophomore averaged 19.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 4.3 steals per game.
Huntley added 16 points and 12 rebounds. She is averaging 16.3 points and 11 rebounds per game in the playoffs.