LONG BALL … North Central’s Johnny Hicks gets an open look at a triple. The Eagles hit 11 three-pointers as a team in a 71-47 win. (PHOTO BY RICH HARDING / THE VILLAGE REPORTER)
By: John Shell
THE VILLAGE REPORTER
WEST UNITY (December 8, 2023) – There was a surge of energy in the crowded Hilltop High School gymnasium at the tipoff between the North Central Eagles and the Hilltop Cadets Thursday night.
It had been 11 months since these archrivals last met and this much anticipated game delivered fans a fresh batch of action to satisfy their basketball appetites.
This game was Hilltop’s home opener as well as the Eagles’ season opener and first game under their new head coach Ben Scofield.
In the first quarter, it was North Central’s senior guard Johnny Hicks who kicked off the night’s scoring by draining a three-point shot in the opening minutes of the game.
This set the stage for the hailstorm of three-pointers that would come from both teams in this high scoring game.
Seven different players in the game would hit a combined 17 three-pointers throughout the game. Early on, Hilltop had limited shooting opportunities in the first quarter due to the intense defensive play by the Eagles.
Defensively, the Eagles had four steals to the Cadets two in the first quarter which helped produce a point advantage early on.
However, it was the accurate shot execution that defined the Eagles’ first quarter of play.
At the midway point of the first quarter, the score stayed within a basket until senior forward Ethan Beard swished two three-point baskets and senior point guard Joe Burt added a pair of baskets as well.
In a span of just three minutes, the Eagles pulled ahead to a 16-6 lead. The score at the end of the first quarter was 19-9 North Central.
At the onset of the second quarter the pace of the game slowed a bit from the fast starts both teams debuted.
The tenacious Eagle defense continued to give the Cadets offensive challenges in getting to the hoop.
The only points scored by Hilltop in the first half of the quarter was a free-throw made by junior guard Brock Kesler at the four-minute mark.
Meanwhile, North Central found the hoop three more times on a field goal by senior center Cohen Meyers and a quick pair of layups by Burt, thus, extending the Eagle’s lead to 15 points going into the final three minutes of the half. Hilltop did not back down though.
Hilltop’s senior forward Anthony Eckenrode fired off a deep three-point shot that hit its target making the score 25-13.
However, Eckenrode’s score was quickly answered with a layup by senior forward Ben Pettit on the next NC possession making the score 27-13 in the Eagles favor with a minute left in the half.
Eckenrode quickly returned fire with a layup of his own, but Pettit once again responded by hitting another three-pointer to help North Central go into the locker room with a 30-16 lead over the Cadets at the half.
As the third quarter opened, Beard took a shot from deep behind the line to score yet another three-point shot extending the Eagles’ lead to 33-16.
Missed shots, fouls, and turnovers kept the score stagnate through the first four minutes of the quarter.
However, Hilltop’s senior guard Raace Haynes was able to break through the Eagle offense with a steal-layup combination to jump start the Hilltop offense.
Then a few possessions later, it was North Central’s Joe Burt who would come up with a steal-layup while being fouled in the process.
Burt missed his foul shot but was fouled again on a shot he took off the rebound, thus putting him at the line where he made both free throws. This brought the score to 39-18 in the Eagles favor.
Although Hilltop’s sophomore forward Drew Bailey was able to answer Burt’s six-point scoring streak with a shot, Burt would score another shot from the paint and another layup while being fouled by a Cadet defender.
In all, Burt scored 10 points in the quarter helping raise the Eagles’ lead to 25 points going into the final quarter of play at 45-20.
If anyone left the building at this point, they surely missed a scoring show! In the 4th quarter, the two teams scored a combined 53 points with 30 of those points coming from three-point shots.
Hilltop’s Drew Bailey proved that the Cadets were not giving up after he opened the quarter by draining a mid-range shot and a layup in the first minute of play.
However, a quick layup by Meyers and a shot hit by Hicks quickly put the NC lead back to 25. Hicks then fired off a long three-point shot that found its mark on the next possession. Hilltop’s Eckenrode took the ball on the next possession and answered with a three-pointer of his own.
Hicks went back to work and drained another three-ball for the Eagles. On the next possession, it was junior guard Cameron Schlosser who hit the long ball for the Cadets for another three points.
After making a foul shot, Hicks proved his deep ball skills by hitting a third three-point shot in the span of four minutes.
The volley of back and four three-pointers wasn’t over though because Schlosser hit another Hilltop three on the next possession making the score 60-35 in favor of NC with three minutes remaining in the game.
Hilltop’s junior guard Devin Dempsey then got in on the three-point contest with a pair of threes on back to back Hilltop possessions.
Two more Eagles would also get in on the long ball action with junior Trenton Douglass and freshmen Zach Whitley both hitting late game three-point shots in the final minutes of the game.
In the end, even with a rousing 27 point fourth quarter, the Cadets were not able to catch the Eagles who also put up 26 in the final quarter. The final score as the buzzer sounded was North Central 71 – Hilltop 47.
After the game, Hilltop head coach Connor English said of the Eagles that “they shot the ball extremely well” in their win and said of his team that “we played hard… I can’t fault our guys, they played hard”.
When asked what factors led to his first win, North Central head coach Ben Scofield spoke highly of his team’s “hard work in practice during the week” in preparation for the game.
He also said it was his team’s “execution in the first three quarters of play” that provided opportunities for his players “to catch fire” at different points in the game.
Coach Scofield concluded his remarks by saying that he is excited to be part of “the dawn of a new era of Eagles’ basketball.”
The two teams will face each other again on January 4th in what is sure to be another high scoring battle between these two Buckeye Border Conference rivals.
NORTH CENTRAL (71) – Burt 18; Meyers; 9 Hicks 15; Pettit 9; Turner 0; Kidston 3; Beard 9; Douglass 3; Hegler 3; Poynter 0; Reinbolt 0; Totals: 12-11-14 – 71
HILLTOP (47) – Haynes 6; Grubbs 0; Schlosser 8; Kesler 4; Shimp 2; Dempsey 11; Eckenrode 10; Rossman 0; Bailey 6; Crossgrove 0; Guillen 0; Totals: 9-7-8 – 47
NORTH CENTAL 19 11 15 26 – 71
HILLTOP 9 7 4 27 – 47
JUNIOR VARSITY: N. Central, 34-26