MERIDIAN — It’s not easy at the time, but good programs tend to build on their losses. Young players learn from their mistakes and they learn from adversity. Experiences, both good and bad, sharpen and mold players for the future.
The Hillcrest boys basketball team may have had a season’s worth of experience heaped on its respective shoulders over the past three weeks.
There were district tournament losses, emotional must-win play-in games, the elation at making the state tournament, a stagnant fourth-quarter loss at state, and finally a gritty performance that ended with a last-second shot missing its mark on Saturday.
When Kobe Kesler’s 3-point shot at the buzzer careened off the rim in Saturday’s 4A state tournament third-place game against Bishop Kelly, it marked another milestone in the team’s season.
Even with a disappointing 51-49 loss, Hillcrest played like a team that deserved to be in the state tournament and a team that intends to make the trip again next year, coach Dave Austin said.
That’s the goal Austin established last year when he started a core group of sophomores with the intention that they’d get better and be a contender at the state tournament.
“We had some ups and downs and they battled through it,” Austin said. “We just have to learn from this opportunity this year and come back better.”
Austin said every opportunity is a stepping stone and this year’s postseason was a good example.
The Knights had one of their best performances of the season when they won their play-in game last weekend against Vallivue. After knocking off rival Skyline in the state tournament opener, they then surrendered a fourth-quarter lead against Middleton and lost.
The rollercoaster continued Saturday when they had just two field goals in the first quarter and trailed by 13 points in the second quarter to a good Bishop Kelly squad.
“They didn’t have a lot of energy,” Austin said of his team’s start, noting that once they began to play up to their potential, the game changed.
An 11-0 run sparked by sophomore Kobe Kesler pulled Hillcrest within 25-21 at the half.
Hillcrest eventually tied the game at 31-31 in the third quarter on a pair of free throws by Tre Kofe, but Bishop Kelly finished the quarter strong and built the lead back up to 10.
Hillcrest and Bishop Kelly may share the same mascot, but that’s where the similarities stop when it comes to the Knights vs. the Knights and their postseason experience.
Hillcrest entered Saturday’s game having played in the state tournament just once over the past 10 years prior to this season. Bishop Kelly was making its eighth trip to the state tournament in nine years.
Did it matter? Maybe not this time, but Austin noted the goal is to have that kind of experience and postseason resume.
The fourth quarter epitomized the game if not the last stretch of the season for Hillcrest. The Knights scrapped to cut the lead to 46-45. Bishop Kelly missed free throws in the final minute, but Hillcrest just couldn’t fully capitalize. Hillcrest inbounded the ball with 1.6 seconds left and found Kobe Kesler on the right side for a good look, but the shot wouldn’t fall.
Hillcrest ended the season 19-10. Austin is serious when he talks about the future and the team’s experience level. This year’s lineup was heavy with juniors. Kobe Kesler is a sophomore and emerging center Isaac Davis is a freshman. Kobe Kesler finished with 14 points and Cooper Kesler added 12.
Bishop Kelly finished the season 17-6.
BISHOP KELLY 51, HILLCREST 49
Bishop Kelly 15 10 19 7 –51
Hillcrest 6 15 13 15 – 49
BISHOP KELLY –Aiden McCarthy 7, Aidan McGarvin 9, Kade Rice 7, Tommy Hunter 13, Blake Hawthorne 15.
HILLCREST – Isaac Davis 10, Cooper Kesler 12, Tre Kofe 2, Jase Austin 5, Sam Kunz 4, Given Chatelain 2, Kobe Kesler 14.