By Russell Korando
The Bob Sechrest Jr. Christmas Tournament just concluded its 62nd year.
The Hillsboro Hawks are the boys champions for the very first time.
With about every inch of the T.J. Foulon Field House at Park Hills Central packed with bodies in the seats and surrounding the court for the championship game between the Hawks and defending tournament champion Farmington, the two teams renewed their tense but expertly played rivalry.
Exactly one year ago to the day, the Knights beat the Hawks 49-45 in the Sechrest final, but Hillsboro won the rematch in February 63-55, then threw down the defensive gauntlet at home in the Class 4 District 2 championship with a 39-38 victory.
Sikeston ended the Hawks season in the sectional round, but Hillsboro hasn’t lost since and will enter 2018 with a gleaming 12-0 record after beating Farmington 65-54. Both teams have plenty of players who can get hot and post 10 or more points, but this game was all about star power.
Hillsboro senior Gaven Pinkley scored 22 points, but junior Michael Brewer poured in 25 points, which matched Farmington senior Tycen Gray’s 25. Knight senior Brendan Hardy launched many shots from well outside the 3-point arc and found his mark five times from there and had 23 points.
The historic moment did not escape Pinkley or senior guard Micheal Keller, who sank a pair of 3-pointers a minute into the second half to give the Hawks some breathing room at 33-28.
“We came in here to do this,” Keller said about winning the tournament.
“It’s great to take the big gold ball back to Hillsboro,” said Pinkley partially describing the trophy the winning team is given.
Hillsboro was the No. 1 seed in the 16-team tournament and the Hawks played like it all the way through. They beat Crystal City 62-27, Potosi 75-38 and Park Hills Central 73-36. The running clock was started in all three of those games.
Gray sank a trey and Pinkley made a bucket to end the scoring in the first quarter that was tied 13-13. Hardy began the second with a 3-point field goal but Brewer tied the game 16-16 with an old-fashioned 3-point play. Gray, Brewer and Hardy did all of the scoring until 1:15 remained before halftime.
Pinkley scored with 30 seconds left in the second but Hardy connected for 3 with 2.9 seconds to play and the Hawks led 27-26 at the break.
“(Hardy) is a great player, a great shooter and a great guy. I have a lot of respect for him,” Keller said.
“I played with Brendan over the summer and he’s a great kid to play with and against,” Pinkley said. “You have to get a hand up in front of him all the time. He’s going to make tough shots. You just have to be OK with it.”
Hillsboro held onto a slim lead early in the third quarter. Keller has played as well defensively this season on the court as he did running the ball to most valuable player honors on the gridiron last fall. There’s just one stipulation about when Keller can shoot, he said.
“When I’m wide open,” he said poking fun at himself. “If I’m not open, I pass because I’m not the best shooter.”
Gray stripped Pinkley and dished to senior Cameron Friend who was fouled. Friend made one of two free throws but Brewer had the answer again with a basket to give the Hawks a 35-31 edge with 4:57 to play in the third.
Hardy’s 3-pointer cut the Hillsboro lead to a point but junior Ben Lampkins threaded the twine from long range and Brewer did the same about a minute later as the lead swelled to 43-36. Lampkins then stole a Knights’ inbound pass and scored again to make it a nine-point lead.
Jackson Schrum was the only Farmington player not named Hardy or Gray to score in the fourth for the Knights and Schrum’s basket with 51 seconds left would be their last.
The Hawks and Knights meet again Feb. 16 in Farmington and are again in District 2, so this fantastic matchup is only getting started this season.
“We knew we had to come out with our A-game. But it’s always the same game plan,” said Pinkley who scored 74 points in the four tournament games.