The first three minutes couldn’t have been scripted any better if John Schaefer had written it himself.
Hillcrest came out firing, scoring the first nine points of the quarter, and Paul VI was ice cold.
Although Panthers from Fairfax, Virginia would go one a 9-0 spurt of their own to tie the game at 9-9, the Hornets would finish the quarter with 14-10 lead.
“After that 9-0 I was really thinking ‘we could do this’,” said Hillcrest guard Thomas Whitaker.
However, this fairy tale didn’t have a happy ending.
Led by a strong core of underclassmen, headlined by highly touted sophomores Franklin Howard and Marcus Derrickson, Paul VI outscored Hillcrest 41-17 during the second and third quarters combined, en route to a 69-49 quarterfinal victory in the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions Thursday night at JQH Arena.
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“I think we caught them off guard early, we started the game well, but once they got more involved I don’t think we battled back well. When you get behind to a team like that you’re playing from behind for the rest of the game and we didn’t make shots but they had a lot to do with that. For the most part I think our kids played hard, I just didn’t feel like we stuck to the game plan as much as we wanted to, but that h has a lot to do with the team we played,” said Hillcrest coach John Schaefer.
That team includes five guys receiving major division one interest, and gave traditional national power Oak Hill Academy its first loss of the season.
Franklin Howard, who is being courted by every major school on the eastern seaboard, used his size and quickness to repeatedly get into the paint, finishing with 17 points of 7-for-11 shooting.
“We haven’t played against guards that quick. It was a good experience and will help us in the long run,” said Whitaker.
The athleticism of Paul VI bothered the Hornets all night, particularly on offense, forcing Hillcrest into 32% shooting (15-46) and leading to a plus-22 Panther rebounding advantage. Hillcrest’s lack of size and Paul VI’s abundance of it was detrimental to Hillcrest.
“I don’t think we were too surprised by their quickness, but their physicality was definitely an issue. Getting Jonah Hill back is going to be a big deal. He just doesn’t have the legs right now to play three games in a row, we are just trying to limit his minutes, use him where we can, and get him back into the flow. That will stop the bleeding some for us,” said Schaefer.
One bright spot for Hillcrest was the play of senior guard Thomas Whitaker, who in his second TOC appearance, finished with 14 points to go along with four assists and three steals.
“Last year I was really nervous coming in, but that experience made it easy for this year,” said Whitaker.
Hillcrest will play Brentwood Christian in the consolation semifinals. Although they are playing without a pair of nationally ranked recruits, will still be a stiff test for the Hornets.
“The team we are playing is a lot like us and they’re going play the same way. We’re going to have to bring it. We’ll have to make shots. I think we’ll do a better job of running offense and have more chances at better shots,” said Schaefer.
St. John Bosco (Calif.) 74, Prestonwood Christian (Texas) 53
In the first contest of the day St. John Bosco, ranked No. 24 in the USA Today Top 25, routed a shorthanded Prestonwood Christian squad 74-53.
Prestonwood, who is playing without a pair of nationally ranked recruits (Julis Randle, No. 3 in 2013; Mickey Mitchell, No. 5 in 2015), was unable to overcome the size of Bosco; resulting in a 32-13 rebounding disadvantage.
Meanwhile, UTEP commit Issac Hamilton poured in a game-high 21 points of 8-for-12 shooting. Younger brother Daniel (No. 26 Class of 2014) also stuffed the box score, dishing out nine assists, and grabbing six rebounds to go along with his 11 points.
Shane Missimo led Prestonwood with 17 points.
Hillcrest will take on Prestonwood Christian at 4:30 p.m. in the first game of the day. Paul VI will play St. John Bosco in the first semifinal at 7:30 p.m.