Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
KINNIKINNICK — Sometimes, we forget that basketball is supposed to be fun.
While players and coaches can get lost in the heat of a battle, at the end of the day and as the old cliche goes, it’s simply just a game.
Carter Hill took that to heart on Monday.
Zane Trace’s junior guard came out of the locker room singing the words to John Mellencamp’s “Hurt So Good” during warm-ups. His relaxed attitude made a difference when the clock started.
Hill had one of his best outings this season, scoring 10 points and playing hard-nosed defense. That helped his Pioneers (8-10) advance with a 58-47 win over Northwest in a Division III sectional semifinal.
“I just try not to play so serious all the time,” Hill said. “Sometimes I can get stuck and get inside my own head. So if I just play loose, I think I’m fine. I was just trying to loosen up all night. I was out there singing, having a good time. That helped me out.”
Hill was one of three Pioneers in double-digit scoring figures while five different names had seven or more. The balance on the scoring sheet and a season-low eight turnovers was ultimately the difference in the contest.
“Ball movement. It’s ball movement with this team,” senior Trey Miller said. “The more we pass it, the more we spread out the floor and the better shots we get. That’s what opened things up for us tonight.”
Northwest (6-14) opened the game with a 4-0 run, courtesy of Connor Lintz and Jay Jenkins. The Pioneers didn’t get on the board until the 4:02 mark in the first quarter when Nalin Robinson nailed a mid-range jumper.
Then, at the 3:32 and 2:25 marks, Ben Nichols hit back-to-back shots to give ZT its first lead of the night at 7-6. Tied 8-8, ZT’s Trey Edler made it an 11-8 score after drawing a foul while nailing a runner.
Jenkins began the second with a score, making it 11-10. But the Pioneers scored on their next possession, via Edler, before forcing two consecutive turnovers that turned into buckets.
Hill and Miller both took advantage of scoring opportunities, capping a 6-0 run to put the Pioneers ahead 17-10 with 6:57 left.
“Coach always says the way to win games is defense,” Hill said. “We always stress about that in practice. The first hour in practice, we’re going over defensive drills. So it’s packed in our minds. Coach is just crazy about defense and we make sure we hammer it down every single day.”
The Mohawks pieced together a 6-0 run of their own, tying the game at 17-17. But Hill and Xzander Ream teamed up for a 7-0 run to answer, making it a 24-17 score. By halftime, the Pioneers were the owners of a 26-19 edge.
Miller dialed long distance to start the second half, making it a 29-19 lead, before later scoring to put his team ahead 34-27. Edler and Kyle Stonerock logged back-to-back scores with 3:18 and 2:59 left, pushing ZT’s lead to 38-29, but the Mohawks continued to hang around.
Northwest trimmed the deficit to six at 40-34 to begin the fourth.
With 5:25 left, Northwest’s Tanner Bolin sank a 3-point shot to cut the lead to 46-43. But Robinson and Miller both answered, pushing the advantage back to seven. Nichols then sank two free throws with 2:22 left, making it a 52-43 score, before Robinson hit four straight freebies, making it a 56-47 ballgame and, ultimately, putting things out of reach for good.
Robinson led the Pioneers statistically with 13 points and six rebounds while Nichols added 10 points and four assists. Hill finished with 10 points, Miller had nine points, four rebounds and a pair of assists, and Edler added seven points to the team’s totals.
Bolin led the Mohawks with 14 points while Lintz had 12 points and five rebounds. Jenkins scored 11 points and Brayden Campbell added four points, five boards and three assists.
“Tonight was a physical game. We had about three people with four fouls,” Hill said. “It was tough. But [Northwest] was in foul trouble, too. If we can be physical, we’re good.”
Northwest’s tournament run comes to an early end while Zane Trace advances to play top-seeded Wheelersburg in a Division III sectional final at 7 p.m., Friday.
“We’ve got to limit the drives [to the basket] and let them bang with us,” Miller said. “We’re a physical team, so as long as we stay strong and keep banging with them, I think we can keep it a close game.”
Northwest: 8-10-16-13 — 47
Zane Trace: 11-15-14-18 — 58
Northwest: 15-44 FG, 12-18 FT, 5-20 3pt., 21 rebounds (Campbell 6), 12 turnovers, 7 assists (Campbell 3). Scoring: Bolin 14, Lintz 12, Jenkins 11, Carver 6, Campbell 4.
Zane Trace: 19-39 FG, 17-26 FT, 3-11 3pt., 27 rebounds (Robinson 6), 8 turnovers, 7 assists (Nichols 4). Scoring: Robinson 13, Nichols 10, Hill 10, Miller 9, Edler 7, Stonerock 5, Ream 3, Ison 1.