NAPOLEON – “We achieved two of our three goals.” Those were the words echoed by Hilltop Head Coach Sam Boehnlein following the Cadets 58-44 loss at the hands of the Ayersville Pilots on March 7th. Those goals were to win the BBC outright, win a Sectional Title, and make it to the District Title game. Although the team compiled an impressive 23-1 record heading into the night’s contest, the came up just short on achieving goal #3.
The atmosphere for the District Semi-final was more like that of a State Tournament game as the #3 Pilots and #6 Cadets met on the hardwood of Napoleon’s “Grand Canyon” to a near capacity crowd. With just 2 losses between them, and Hilltop’s lone loss coming at the hands of the Pilots, the rematch was full of anticipation by all in attendance.
In their Sectional Final contest against Hicksville, the Cadets came off the jump ball on fire sprinting out to a 14-0 lead on marksman like shooting. However, for this game it was just the opposite as Hilltop suffered through the opening period making just 1 out of 9 shots, and also committed 6 turnovers enabling the opportunistic Pilots to fly out to a 13-4 first quarter advantage, one in which 6 different Ayersville players registered points in the scoring column. Hilltop was also faced with deciding who was going to take over the point guard duties for the second stanza as Steven Riley headed to the bench after being whistled for his 2nd foul with 6.3 seconds left in the first quarter.
Hilltop Coach Sam Boehnlein reflected on the first period shooting woes. “It seemed like there was a cover on our rim the first quarter. We got good looks. Shots just wouldn’t fall.”
Ryan Brooker got the Cadets started in the second quarter, first by knocking down the second of two free throws after grabbing an offensive rebound, then nailing a triple from the top of the key at the 5:15 mark of the period. However, the Pilots responded with a 7-0 run extend the lead to 22-8. Tim Maneval got Hilltop back on track, but Miller answered for Ayersville with a layup off a Cadet turnover. Quinn Smith picked Martinez’s pocket for a lay in, but Ayersville put up four more. Smith added two free throws, and the Pilots Schlachter, a bucket to end the quarter, his 12th point of the half. As the teams headed the locker rooms to rest and regroup, Ayersville was up 30-14.
Cold shooting and turnovers were Hilltop’s worst enemies in the first half. The Cadets were just 4-17 from the field, and also committed nine miscues. They also did not help themselves on the glass as they allowed Ayersville to collect nine offensive rebounds, many which were converted into points.
Schlachter picked up right where he left off to start the third quarter as the junior added two scores to extend the lead to 20 points. Hilltop answered at the 6:20 mark of the period when Maneval scored a layup on a sweet feed from Steven Riley. Brooker added two more after an offensive rebound, and Maneval made one free throw after being fouled following a steal. Miller scored four straight for the Pilots before Smith responded with a triple from the baseline to make the score 38-21 with 3:11 in the quarter. A timeout was quickly signaled for by Coach Boehnlein following the basket.
The Cadets went to full-court pressure following the strategy session, but the Pilots flew past the press as Schlachter converted the fast break layup. Kohl Collins put back an offensive rebound for Hilltop. Following another Ayersville score, the Cadets went on a 7-0 run to end the quarter first by a Maneval basket off a dish from Smith, then Smith hit a triple, followed by a strong move inside to cut the deficit to 42-30 in favor of Ayersville as quarter number three was put into the books leaving Hilltop just 8 minutes to attempt to make up the difference.
With 7:45 left in the final frame, Maneval brought the crowd to their feet, and cut the margin to single digits for the first time since midway through the second quarter when he nailed a triple from the left baseline. However, that was short lived as the Pilots promptly went on an 11-0 run that four different player contributed to. With 5:09 left in the game, and potentially their season, Hilltop trailed again by 20 points, 53-33.
Brooker wasn’t quite ready for the game to end as he scored off a strong move in the paint, then buried a deep three from the right wing. Ayersville got a trifecta from Martinez before Smith hit one from the left wing making the score 56-41. Schlachter closed out the scoring for Ayersville with a little under two minutes left. Maneval then hit the final shot of the game, a deep three from right in front of the Hilltop bench to make the score 58-44. The bucket came with 1:35 left. With 35 seconds remaining Boehnlein signaled for another time out to clear his bench and allow the three seniors, Brooker, Maneval, and Smith to receive the standing ovation they certainly deserved.
Hilltop’s second half made their final stats respectable as they overcame poor shooting in the opening 16 minutes by finishing 16-40 for 40%, while Ayersville made good on 25-49 attempts for 51%. The Cadets were more adept at the foul line going 6-11 for 55%, with Ayersville only shooting 8 free throws and converting just 2 for 25%. The Pilots controlled the glass snatching 34 rebounds, including 15 offensive, 7 of which led directly to points. Hilltop was able to grab just 24 boards. Hilltop turned the ball over just 4 times in the second half to end the game with 13, while Ayersville committed 10 miscues.
The Cadets were also led in scoring by the trio who have rewritten several records on the Hilltop leaderboards this season. Smith, the recently named BBC Player of the Year, paced the way with 16 points, while Brooker and Maneval each added 13. They each hit two from behind the arc as well. Collins was the only other player to score for Hilltop as he made one basket for 2 points.
Ayersville was led by Ethan Schlachter as the 6’7” post player caused match up nightmares all night and finished with 22 points. Jacob Miller also reached double digits for the 23-1 Pilots with 14 points.
Hilltop finishes off their record breaking season with a record of 23-2, with both losses coming at the hands of the Pilots. They ran the table in the BBC finishing with a perfect 12-0 record, and set the standard for most wins ever in a season. This from a team who had unfinished business after finishing 13-10 overall, 8-2 in the BBC, and suffered a Sectional Semi-final upset loss to Holgate last season.
When asked to sum up his thoughts on the season, Coach Boehnlein shared the following. “I’m incredibly proud of how our guys have fought. They have no reason to hang their heads. We have had an unbelievable season with all we have accomplished and all the records that have been set. You saw all the fans dressed in red. What an impact his team has had on the school and the community.”
Smith and Maneval also now stand at numbers 1 and 2 on the Cadets All-time Leading Scorers List, Smith holds the record for most offensive rebounds, Brooker the most defensive rebounds, and Maneval the most three-pointers made in a career. Obviously the seniors are leaving with not only many records, but also several incredibly memorable moments.
Coach Boehnlein reflected on the contributions of the three seniors and their lasting effects. “They are not replaceable. The impact they have had on the juniors, sophomores, freshmen, all the way down to junior high. They’ve been the heart and soul of this team for four years.
They are not just great basketball players but great kids as well. They have been a joy to coach. They have a lot to be proud of. Little kids look up to these guys and want to play basketball to be like Quinn, Tim, and Ryan. I’m extremely proud.”
Coach Boehnlein is going to have a formidable task ahead next season to fill their shoes, but does return several juniors, including starters Steven Riley and Tyler Suboski, as well as Andrew Denton, Kohl Collins, Sam Shilling, Austin Schaffner, and Chase Masters. All who made significant contributions throughout the year. It should be interesting to see what impact all the success of this season will have not only on next year’s team, but future teams as well.
SCORING BY QUARTER:
Hilltop – 4 10 16 14 – 44
Ayersville – 13 17 12 16 – 58
Kent Hutchison may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org