It took about a quarter and a half for the Hillcrest Hornets to shake the rust off Thursday night.
The Hornets’ last game was a 79-62 loss to Kickapoo on Feb. 21. But once the second-seeded Hornets got to halftime, they exploded for 45 second-half points on their way to a 73-56 Class 4 District 9 semifinal victory over No. 3 Rogersville.
“I was worried, coming in, about how we had our games scheduled,” Hillcrest coach Joel Brown said. “Last year, we didn’t have any prep time for districts. This year, we had way too much prep time. You can try to simulate games all you want to in practice, but I knew it was going to look like that.
“I told the guys at the end of the first quarter, at halftime, that we expected this slow, sluggish start. How we played is really not that different than a lot of other games we’ve played. We’ve had a lot of games where it was really close at halftime. And, with our bench depth, we try to guard and try to wear people down. I think it was case in point tonight of that continual grinding on people.”
Rogersville jumped out to a 5-0 lead and then went on a 7-0 run to take a 19-12 lead after the first quarter. Hillcrest used a 9-0 run in the second quarter to close the gap, trailing 29-28, capped by Cole Pryor’s 3-point heave at the halftime buzzer.
Tim Washington Jr., tied the game at 31 early in the third on a jumper, and Shahn Clark followed with a runner in the lane to give the Hornets their first lead of the game (33-31).
The third quarter remained tight with both teams trading baskets. Hillcrest built a six-point lead (39-33) before Rogersville went on an 8-0 run to reclaim the lead (41-39) with 2:38 left in the quarter.
Hillcrest scored on an inbounds play to sophomore Tyem Freeman, who then got free for an emphatic dunk, putting the Hornets up 43-41. Rogersville answered again on a basket by Jarrett Stiles to tie the game at 43.
But the Hornets closed out the quarter on a 5-0 run, capped by another Pryor 3-pointer at the buzzer (50-46).
“Tyem’s length can cause people a lot of problems, when he’s active,” Brown said. “I think that helped us quite a bit, just to kind of spark something. We made a little adjustment and we got some layups that finally went in. Once you get some momentum rolling, that’s kind of when things flow for you a little better.”
And flow they did in the fourth quarter.
The Hornets, who improved to 18-7, scored 23 in the fourth and held Rogersville to four points for the first six minutes of the quarter.
“We just had a few too many turnovers,” Rogersville coach Mitch McHenry said. “We had some turnovers in the first half, but we were able to get set up on defense after we turned the ball over. In the second half, we started turning the ball over around half-court and then the backcourt. They were able to get easy points, uncontested layups, and they got a lot of points off turnovers in the second half, and the tempo of the game kind of got away from us in that fourth quarter.
“A lot of credit to those Hillcrest players and coach Brown’s guys because they continued to get stronger as the game went on, and they never really let down and they caused a lot of problems in that fourth quarter.”
Once Hillcrest got to a 10-point lead with 3:31 to go, the Hornets pulled the ball out to force the Wildcats to come after them.
“Rogersville does a great job of packing the lane,” Brown said. “Once we could get them spread out a little bit more, we’ve got some guys who, off the bounce, are pretty good, so that opened up some things for us to get to the basket a little better.”
The Hornets will meet top-seeded Bolivar for the third time this season – this time, for the district championship on Saturday. Bolivar won the first meeting 74-58 on Dec. 6, and Hillcrest took the second matchup 68-66 in overtime in the finals of the Bolivar Tournament on Jan. 28.
A slow start, like the one on Thursday night, will not work against Bolivar.
“We did that once,” Brown said. “I don’t think we can do it a second time. We told the guys, it’s got to start from the first tip – all the way through the game. And, they’re a good team – a really good team. We’re going to have to absolutely bring it to try to get a win Saturday.”
NO. 2 HILLCREST BOYS 73, NO. 3 ROGERSVILLE 56
Class 4 District 9 quarterfinal
ROGERSVILLE – 19-10-17-10—56
ROGERSVILLE (16-12) – Drew Ritter 3, Matthew McHenry 9, Luke Vandersnick 12, Andrew Scott 15, Jackson Von Behren 6, Ryker Strong 7, Jarrett Stiles 4.
HILLCREST (18-7) – Tyem Freeman 21, Cole Pryor 16, Tim Washington Jr. 15, Shahn Clark 10, Sam Terry 3, Savion Hill 2, Josh Powell 2, Malik Stokes 4.
Up next: (Class 4 District 9 Championship) No. 1 Bolivar vs. No. 2 Hillcrest, 2:15 p.m. Saturday