When Hillgrove guard B.J. Brown was asked how he was coping Monday night following Hillgrove’s 60-48 loss to Norcross in Saturday’s Class AAAAAA state championship game, he said, “I’m doing better.”
What Hillgrove will remember most about the 2012-13 campaign was making its first trip to the final four and its first trip to a state championship game.
“I think that our team had a great year and I’m very proud of them,” Brown said. “Our coaches coached with determination and worked us very hard to get to this point.”
Hillgrove, which came up short against North Cobb in the Region 4AAAAAA tournament championship, was playing its best defense of the season in the Class AAAAAA state tournament, most notably in its 56-54 semifinal victory over a taller and more experienced playoff team in Wheeler.
After limiting most of their postseason opponents in the 40s and low 50s, it was essential that the Hawks play near-perfect defense against the Blue Devils, who have won five state championships since 2006.
And Hillgrove did that for the most part. The game was low-scoring with Hillgrove leading 25-24 at the half and 42-41 early in the fourth quarter. But Norcross managed to slip through the Hawks defense in the fourth quarter and go on an 11-3 run to put itself in good position to win.
Hillgrove had to foul, and the Blue Devils made 8-of-12 shots down the stretch to win it.
“I thought they had physically worn us down,” Hillgrove coach Ed Morris said. “Late in the game, we were getting tired and they got on a little run at the right time. We had to foul and they made their free throws down the stretch and we weren’t able to convert shots on the other end. That happens late in games. They did a good job closing it out and making their free throws.”
The small stuff also made a difference, such as Norcross winning the turnover battle and points inside the paint.
Morris said he watched a replay of the game Monday and said he had no regrets on how his team performed. He said Hillgrove came up with a solid game plan and executed, forcing Norcross to make the extra plays to win.
“We did everything we could to win the game and it so happens we came up a little short.”
Having continuity on Morris’ coaching staff also attributed to Hillgrove’s success. Spencer Burstein, Keyon Boyd and Guy Catton have worked under Morris for several seasons with Andrew Albertson joining the staff this year.
What will really help Hillgrove next season is having three starters returning from this year’s team, one of which is leading scorer Kyle Castlin, who averaged 21 points a game. But it will be difficult to replace a group of talented seniors — Aren Screen, John Franklin, Jonathan James, Shamari Southwell and Jordan Sexton.
The school plans to honor the team for what they’ve done, although there aren’t set plans at the moment.
“Everyone is tired from getting in late and then we had to spring forward on Sunday,” Morris said. “We will talk this week and try to do something for the guys and celebrate the season that they had.”