A steady drone of cheers followed Hillcrest to a win Thursday night against the Park Christian Falcons who played one of their best games of the season in a tournament atmosphere at Hillcrest Academy. The teams traded buckets and streaky scoring, entering half-time tied, giving many fans uncertainty of the outcome knowing anything can happen in tournament time.
A sea of red crested against the stands with every Comet steal and 3-point attempt. With every rising moment the gym windows rattled at the sounds of fans, who made the gym atmosphere electric. With the opening tip going to Park Christian, and a quick bucket for the Falcons, it was clear that the teams second face-off was going to be entertaining.
Park Christian stuck with Hillcrest throughout the night. A thirty-four-all tie was in favor of Park Christian with seconds remaining in the half. The teams stepped gingerly from 30, to 32, to 34 points with a minute before the half, battling for momentum going into the locker room. The tie gave both teams a chance to reset for the second half. Hillcrest desperately needed to reset the table.
The Comets struggled at times during the night. Park played with a smooth resolve on the court. Their team offense, with quick passing and boulder-like screens, gave the Falcons a sense of great ball control throughout the night, rendering a meager 7 steals for a Hillcrest team that is known for quick feet and breaking into passing lanes. Park's defense was difficult for the Comets to overcome, forcing 11 turnovers for a Comet team that traditionally has a better handle on the ball.
With a new 18 minutes on the court, Hillcrest jumped to control the second half of the game. Junior Sean McGuire posted 8 points for the Comets' in their first 3 possessions. McGuire soared through the air and pulled down important rebounds, grabbing 7 on the night, with timely shooting that earned him 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
Following McGuire, Kyler Newman stepped in to help redirect the undefeated Comets. Newman's quick hands and smothering defense earned him 5 steals, but also placed him in foul trouble as the game wore on. Newman turned his intensity from the defensive side of the court into offensive opportunities, taking many of his steals coast-to-coast in what looked like a layup clinic. Newman ended the game with 18 points, earning 5 points at the free throw line where he made 5-of-8.
Free throws proved to be a difference maker for Hillcrest, granting the Comets opportunities to adjust their game with sideline coaching while also putting points on the board. The Comets hit 11-of-15 from the free throw line, a 73% stat line that bolstered their work in taking over the game in the second half.
Chris Tungseth led the Comets in regaining control of the game, leading all scoring with 29 points. Taking the ball up the court on a number of possessions, Chris directed traffic and steadily implemented an offense that benefitted Hillcrest's shooting guards. Chris led the team with 4 assists.
Park Christian stayed step-for-step with the Comets coming down the stretch. At the 3 minute mark it was still anyones game. However, following a couple of strong defensive stands and some big shots falling for the Comets, Park Christian was unable to leap to the level Hillcrest brought the game. In the closing minutes Hillcrest's sharp shooting and collapsing defense put a 10 point margin in place that Park couldn't break through. When the buzzer sounded Hillcrest was on top by 14, 74-60.
Hillcrest plays Underwood Saturday at 6pm in Concordia as they continue their march in playoffs. The Comets remain undefeated, something they are looking to retain as they work to play in Williams arena in March.