Pats notch sectional repeat

Photos by Corey Stolzenbach/The Herald
Heritage Hills players celebrate a second straight sectional championship on Saturday following the team's 54-32 win against Boonville. 

BOONVILLE - Heritage Hills had a high mountain to climb if it wanted to feel the same feeling it felt a year ago when it won its first sectional championship since 2003. But the Patriots (19-3) nevertheless found their way.

The Pats reeled off a 54-32 win Saturday night against host Boonville for their second straight Sectional 32 title. They have dealt with so much this past year that started with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing a cancellation of the rest of the boys basketball tournament, but that's not all they endured.

Heritage Hills graduated a pair of 1,000 point scorers in Murray Becher and Simon Scherry - meaning that other players would have to step in and play a bigger role on the team this year. The Pats encountered a couple of tough losses this year against Barr-Reeve and Forest Park, and unlike last year, they had to win three games to be the last team standing compared to the bye they received in 2020.
Yet, after everything they've been through, a Sectional 32 trophy will reside in Lincoln City for the second year in a row.

"This one's special," senior Blake Sisley said. "This is with the guys that I've grown up with my whole life, six years on the team, everyone contributes in every kind of way, and this one just means a lot."

"We didn't get any breaks this season," Pats coach Nate Hawkins said. "We had some adversity along the way. Forest Park - we had that game and we threw it away at the end, turned the ball over. We had to learn. That's all these guys have done is just continue to learn."

More adversity came when Boonville breathed down Heritage Hills' necks at halftime. The Pats held an 18-8 lead after one, and extended their lead to 27-15 in the second quarter. However, the Pioneers got hot. Senior Jake Johnson had the chance to stop the bleeding for the Pats, but he missed two free throws with 5.9 seconds to play.

Boonville senior Devin Mockobee was fouled at the buzzer and made one-of-two free throws to shrink the Pats' lead to 27-24. Heritage Hills would have some work to do on the defensive side of the ball after allowing the Pioneers to get back in it on a 9-0 run.

"We weren't happy with that," Sisley said. "That's not the defense that we like to play. We gave them all the confidence. We knew we were kind of in a hole in a way."

"That was really all we talked about was, 'Our defense has got to be better,'" Hawkins said. "We felt like we could score against them when we needed to, but our defense had to be better, and they responded."

Senior Logan Krzykowski's and-one with 7:36 to go in the third quarter ended Boonville's 9-0 run, and Krzykowski converted his free throw. Johnson drained a shot from deep that brought the lead back to double digits at 36-26, and the Pats never again had that scare that they had towards the end of the first half. They outscored the Pioneers in the second half, 27-8, to ward off any possibility of an upset.

Sisley dropped a game-high 23 points, but other players have brought along key contributions along the way. Junior JT Smallwood couldn't get his shots to fall Friday night, but had a trio of threes early in the game, and he finished with 11 points. Sophomore Marcus Becher has also brought it as a perimeter shooter this year, and had some timely shots Friday night against Evansville Bosse.

Heritage Hills senior Jake Johnson (14) goes for a bucket in the fourth quarter, besting fellow senior Devin Mockobee (5) of Boonville. 

Meanwhile, senior Adam Guth is another player who has had an expanded role on the Pats this year, and made some hustle plays in the sectional alone when he stopped a ball from going out of bounds and giving Bosse a possession in the first half on Friday. He also helped Heritage Hills get some early offensive rebounds on Saturday.

"Obviously, we had Blake Sisley coming back - we knew what Blake was like," Hawkins continued. We had Jake coming back - we knew what we had there. But losing Simon Scherry, Murray Becher, Cole Sigler, Cayden Kratzer, Mark Doyle - those were big, big losses and big players on our basketball team. And we had some JV kids that had to step up, and they responded, they answered the bell completely. Our role players have been nothing more than phenomenal this year."

"We sat down, made a bunch of goals, this was one of them," Sisley said. "They're coming true tonight, and it feels great."

Heritage Hills is set to take on Silver Creek in the Regional 8 tournament inside Washington's Hatchet House. The Pats and Dragons were supposed to meet last year in the regional, but the shut down prevented that from ever happening. Hawkins will finally be able to coach Heritage Hills in a regional, as not only did the Pats have that opportunity taken from them last year, they were one-and-done in the sectional his first three years at the helm.

The fifth-year coach told the Herald on Saturday how the 2020 cancellation was, because he felt last year's team had the potential to win a state championship. This year's squad, meanwhile, had the task of starting all over again.

"Other than doing Zoom calls and getting together a little bit here and there, we weren't really able to do a lot of stuff," he said. "Then we got back in July, and it was like we didn't miss a beat. All these kids, these that (were) coming back into the program have worked so, so hard all summer, all fall, just waiting to get back to this opportunity.

"And then they get a hold of this opportunity, and then to be able to beat (Evansville) Memorial, to beat Bosse and then come back here after the tough draw and beat a Boonville team that been playing at a really high level this week, it's just incredible," Hawkins added. "I'm just so proud to be their coach, and I love Heritage Hills."

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