History has officially been reshaped.
The Hillsdale Hornets run of seven straight Pat Paterson Holiday Classic championships is now a thing of the past, as the Reading Rangers relied on a bunch of kids who were merely elementary school students seven years ago, to upset the long-standing champs 64-60.
When Hornets sophomore Cameron Holroyd drilled a deep 3-pointer to pull his team within 61-60 with 17.5 seconds remaining, it looked as if Hillsdale might write another chapter in its storied tournament tradition.
But it was Reading sophomore Jake Hubbard who calmly dropped in a pair of free throws, part of an 8-for-10 effort from the line, and a missed Kurtis Condon 3-point attempt for Hillsdale that closed the book.
For Ranger head coach Mitch Hubbard it was a thing of unequivocal beauty.
“I love it. It’s fun for the kids — I told them this might be the biggest crowd we’ll have for a while, so come out and enjoy it because all of the pressure is on Hillsdale,” he said. “The tournament is in their house, they’re the big school, so I told them to relax and try to play. I love it”
On the other side of the fence was Hillsdale head coach Brad Felix, who is in search of a leader to step up and make something out of this unexpected situation.
“We shouldn’t have been in a position to have to make a comeback,” he said, after his team kept chopping away at deficits in the final five minutes. “I thought our senior leadership was (awful), it was just that simple. We had no leadership, we had nobody who wanted the ball, nobody who wanted to make a play — they had guys who wanted to make plays.”
For about a six-minute stretch of the second quarter it appeared as if senior Nick Reiniche and Holroyd would carry this team to another title game, and a 16-0 run to close the quarter erased a five-point margin and gave them a 31-23 lead.
But a young bunch of Rangers with a couple of veteran leaders had a few quick scoring bursts left in them.
After a slow start, senior Joe Hubbard made some great driving finishes and a few jumpers to finish with a team-high 16 points to go with three assists and fellow seniors Alex Eastwood and Brian Rauth tallied 10 and seven. Eastwood was also good for six rebounds and three assists.
The wildcard was the play of four Ranger sophomores though, as they appeared unphased by the loud crowd and high stakes.
Brandon Jackson split tiny seams in the defense en route to nine points, Chad Berger hit a pair of triples to go with eight rebounds and Jake Hubbard had 10 points.
“I was worried about all four of them coming in because this is a big stage for them and I thought all four of them responded well,” Hubbard said. “That was Chad’s first start tonight, I thought (Connor) Aemisegger gave us good minutes, especially in that third quarter, and Jake hit free-throws down the stretch.”
Hubbard was especially pleased with Jackson, whose quickness was the perfect complement to Rauth, and Felix handed out a few complements to the opposing youngsters.
“Yeah, I thought (Brandon Jackson) played good, we didn’t contain him very good and (Chad Berger) hit some big shots in the second half,” Felix said. “Yeah, impressive, they’re going to be good for a while.”
While it was timely offense that came through for Reading in the clutch, it was an aggressive defense that kept them in the contest for the duration.
Hillsdale turned the ball over 18 times and Reading switched between three different defensive looks in the second half to confuse the Hornets as much as possible.
Holroyd finished with a game-high 21 points, including four 3-pointers, and Reiniche added 20 (to go with nine rebounds) with a nice array of mid-range jumpers, but no one else scored more than seven for Felix’s team.
“Guys are scared, we played afraid. I just thought we played not loose and it goes back to my first comment, we had no leadership out there,” he said. “We had nobody who wanted the ball, it was just awful.”
When asked if he thought his team would learn anything from the heartbreak Felix said, “I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.”
Today they will play Camden-Frontier in the consolation game around 4:30 p.m., while Reading will try to break another streak in the title game.
They will face-off against Waldron at 8:15 p.m., a school who has won three consecutive Don Eby pool championships at the tournament, the exact pool the Rangers have their eyes set on winning.