Tigers face tall task in regional semifinal game against St. Ignace
After starting the season with just six players and dropping their first six games to open the year, the Hillman girls basketball team showed big heart despite low numbers and at the time, seemingly low expectations in what coach John Kuzewski thought would be a rebuilding year for his consistent program.
Fast forward to March and the Tigers (12-11) are fresh off of a surprising district championship run that ended with a close and controversial win over Posen, an upset of Onaway and a victory over the host Wolverine Wildcats in the district final, claiming their second district championship in three years.
“I can’t be prouder of the effort. We played three tough teams, three physical games and we won all of them in district play,” Kuzewski said. “Winning a district title shows that Hillman girls basketball is still a very good program.”
Hillman has won 9 of its last 11 games and have accomplished the lone goal they set out for at the beginning of the year, to play their best basketball at the end of the season.
Mission accomplished and the Tigers are still playing.
“The one thing I kept saying during our opening stretch was that we would be playing better basketball by the end of the season,” Kuzewski said. “We’ve gotten contributions from everybody and as a coach you love to see that. We have athletes who are talented, know how to play and know how to win.”
The Tigers will now face their tallest task of the season and will need a near perfect effort if they have any hopes of pulling off what would be a monumental upset.
Hillman travels to tonight’s regional semifinal matchup in Pellston against the top ranked team in Division 4, St. Ignace at 6 p.m..
The Saints are a perfect 23-0 on the year and also appear to be playing their best basketball.
St. Ignace coasted through district play as the Saints won their first three postseason games by an average of 44 points.
Foul trouble has hurt Hillman a bit throughout the playoffs, but they have been able to overcome it with solid bench play.
The Tigers will need to keep their scorers on the court tonight and will need a herculean effort from their two top scorers, Bailey Schook and Brooke Jones.
Along with Schook and Jones, Hillman will need to continue to get steady play from Alison Samp and Melanie Morrison.
Morrison was the district quarterfinal hero for the Tigers as she hit a pair of shots late, including to give the Tigers a lead with 13 seconds left and one they were able to hang onto.
Jones poured in a team high 22 points in a district semifinal win against Onaway and Schook and Jones combined for 28 points in the championship game victory on Friday.
St. Ignace has scored no less than 52 points in a game all season which could be a huge concern for Hillman as the Tigers have eclipsed 50 points just seven times this season, but two of them have been in their last two district wins.
It is no secret that Hillman enters the game as an underdog, but it is a role that the Tigers have spent much of the season playing.
A lot needs to go right for the Tigers if they hope to finally get over the regional semifinal hump as the numbers nor history will be on Hillman’s side as the Tigers have failed to win a regional game in each of their last two semifinal appearances, including an 81-51 loss to St. Ignace during the 2014-2015 district semifinal.