ST. IGNACE - The Hillman boys basketball team reached a series of milestones during the regular season.
It had the best regular season record in school history (21-2), was the first team to win back-to-back districts and full ownership of the North Star League title.
It looked like the Tigers was primed to nab another first when they led Cedarville 27-21 at halftime in a Class D boys regional final on Wednesday.
News Photo by Eric Benac
Hillman's Mason VanPamel (22) tries to dribble around Cedarville defender Brad Causley during a Class D regional final in St. Ignace on Wednesday. Hillman lost 63-57.
However, things didn't quite turn out as planned as the Trojans earned a hard fought 63-57 win.
"I tell the guys to keep their heads high. Obviously, they're the best team in the school's history. Record-wise and everything we've done, North Star League, back-to-back districts, they worked hard. They just felt like it was stripped from them tonight," Hillman coach Eric Muszynski said. "But we battled throughout the entire game, never gave up and couldn't be prouder of the boys."
Mason VanPamel started things quickly for Hillman in the first quarter when he hit a three-pointer a minute in and the Tigers started the game on a 9-0 run.
Hillman's press pushed hard against the Trojans and kept them from scoring. The Trojans were forced to take long range perimeter shots that just wouldn't fall.
The Tigers took an 11-6 lead into the second quarter, but things changed quickly.
Cedarville went on a run started by a trey from Ted Bowbly 30 seconds in the quarter. The Trojans started to disrupt Hillman and used its height for an advantage as players like Brad Causley and Dan Stenback grabbed rebounds.
Causley and Stenback both led with 20 points for Cedarville.
With its inside game shut down for much of the second quarter, Hillman relied on its sharp shooting skills. The Tiger didn't disappoint: Ty Jones hit three straight triples to give Hillman a 22-21 late in the period.
Mike Klein added another three-pointer at the buzzer to send Hillman to halftime with the lead.
Jones scored over half of Hillman's points with 28.
Hillman's momentum was sapped in the third quarter as Joey Duncan and Nathan Smith hit back-to-back treys for Cedarville to start the second half.
Jones hit two more treys for Hillman to keep it close, but Cedarville outscored Hillman 22-10 in the third quarter, taking a 43-37 lead and general momentum of the game into the fourth quarter.
That didn't stop Hillman from trying to rally back. As Stenback started to score bucket after bucket in the post, the Tigers struck hard with a full-court press and back court traps.
"I think we hard problem with their height. Dan (Stenback) kind of started going off in the third and the fourth. I thought early on in the game we were fronting the post really well, really aggressive at that. I think in the third and fourth they started to get away from us," Muszynski said.
Jones hit one three-pointer at the start of the fourth quarter to narrow the lead to 45-40. Stenback scored eight straight in the middle of the quarter to pull the Trojans to a 55-46 lead.
A pair of free throws by Klein with 59 seconds left narrowed Cedarville's lead to 59-55, but in the end Hillman ran out of time.
Although it's losing two strong seniors in Klein and Brenden Zimmer, Hillman is returning nine players next year and could be poised for another run to the regional final.
"I feel outstanding where the Hillman program is at. I think we're in a great spot. We're vastly improved, last year 17-6 and this year 21 wins," Muszynski said. "I think we've closed the gap on regional plays. We've been here twice and third time's the charm. I'm going to do everything I can to get them there."
CEDARVILLE (63): B. Causley 7 6-9 20; N. Smith 1 1-2 4; C. Williams 2 2-2 8; J. Duncan 5 0-0 11; D. Stenback 8 4-6 20.
HILLMAN (57): D. Ross 3 0-1 6; T. Jones 10 2-2 28; G. Libby 1 0-0 2; M. Klein 1 5-6 8; M. VanPamel 2 2-3 7; B. Zimmer 2 2-2 6.
Eric Benac can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5690. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricBenac.