The No. 7 Class 2A state-ranked Hillsboro boys had all the answers for Nickerson’s challenge.

When Nickerson slowed down Hillsboro standouts Christian Ratzlaff and Brett Weinbrenner with a triangle-and-two defense, the Trojans’ role players found gaps and took advantage. After Nickerson’s hot-shooting Joey Stockinger torched the Trojans’ first-half defense for 11 points, Hillsboro held him to seven second-half points.

The Trojans dominated after halftime to pull away for a 56-41 Central Kansas League basketball victory Friday. Hillsboro led 30-27 in a fiercely-competitive first half. Each team made 11 field goals.

Ratzlaff and Weinbrenner combined to make 4 of 16 field goals, but the Trojans parlayed six 3-pointers and 14 free throws to outscore the Panthers 26-14 after halftime. Ratzlaff worked hard for his 14 points.

The Trojans exhibited solid offensive balance. Micah Allen scored 10 points with a pair of 3-pointers. Jordan Faul nailed a trio of 3-pointers. Avery Franz chipped in eight points. The Trojans outscored the Panthers 18-9 from 3-point range and 14-4 from the free throw line. The Hillsboro played error free basketball for 12 minutes in the second half.

“Nickerson did a good job defending Brett (Weinbrenner) and Christian (Ratzlaff), but our other guys did a good job stepping into the gaps,” said Hillsboro coach Darrel Knoll. “We did better moving the basketball the second half and making a few shots. Our guys stepped up tonight. I was really pleased with our effort against a well-coached Nickerson team that we knew would play hard.”

Hillsboro (9-1, 1-1 CKL) outscored the Panthers 12-2 in the third quarter for a 42-29 lead that Nickerson never threatened. Hillsboro’s Evan Ollenburger, Jesse Brown, Ratzlaff and Allen shared turns defending Stockinger, who made 2 of 10 field goals after halftime.

“We knew he was a good scorer. Stockinger got himself a few open shots that first half and made them,” Knoll said. “The second half, we did a much better job not giving him any open shots and not letting him get into any gaps.”

Nickerson (2-7, 1-1 CKL) was paced by Stockinger’s 18 points. Connor Childs was a physical presence inside with 10 points and five rebounds. But the Panthers other players combined for four field goals.

Nickerson coach Ryan Duft liked how Ben Berridge and Bryon Young defended Hillsboro’s top two scorers in a triangle-and-two defense.

“Their top two scorers are a handful to guard and they didn’t shoot it that well, but their other guys stepped up and make shots,” Duft said. “Hillsboro is a skilled offensive team. Our key was we had a hard time getting defensive stops at times.”

Nickerson made 11 of 22 first-half field goals, but only 5 of 15 in the second half.

“For us, shooting 50 percent and scoring 27 points is a good offensive half, but we’ve got to play better defense,” Duft said. “We’ve lost two close games and now we’re fighting our confidence. We’ve got to find a way to play better basketball.”

No. 2 seeded Hillsboro plays Goodland in the Hillsboro Tournament and Nickerson plays unbeaten defending state champion St. John in the St. John Mid-Winter Classic Tuesday.

HILLSBORO GIRLS 64, NICKERSON 26 – Hillsboro standout Addie Lackey scored 23 points and Danae Bina hustled for 19 points to spark Hillsboro past winless Nickerson. The Trojans bounced back from a loss to unbeaten Sterling. Lackey, who departed with an ankle sprain, has signed to play basketball with Emporia State University.

Hillsboro (9-1, 2-0) forced 20 first-half turnovers to ignite an effective fast-break offense. The Trojans roared to an 18-0 lead when Paige Stewart scored Nickerson’s first basket. Hillsboro stretched the lead to 28-2 in the second quarter. Hillsboro forced 27 turnovers.

“I wanted to see how we bounced back, and our pressure was good,” said Hillsboro coach Nathan Hiebert. “We forced turnovers and get some easy baskets off our pressure.”

After a slow start, Hiebert was pleased with Hillsboro’s offensive execution. Lackey converted a trio of 3-pointers and eight field goals. Bina led Hillsboro’s fast break offense.

“We got better ball movement and attacked better on offense as the game got going,” Hiebert said. “Addie has been a consistent performer for us all season. She’s having a great season.”

Hillsboro’s mid-season tournament next week at Hillsboro features four unbeatens – top-ranked Class 4A Wamego,

Nickerson senior all-league Paige Stewart played brilliantly with 18 points, eight rebounds and several steals. Stewart scored Nickerson’s first 15 points when Alexis Martinez converted a free throw in the third period.

“We knew Paige Stewart was a fine basketball player. She is a hard-working players who never lets down,” Hiebert said. “She did a good job attacking our defense a few times. We worked hard to defend her.”

Stylish Nickerson sophomore guard Denis Ortiz chipped in three assists to Stewart. Bryanna Herrman scored four points off the bench.