LANSING | After handfuls of his players exited a post-game meeting, tears mottling the cheeks of most, Steve Breshock, coach of Times No. 4 T.F. South, struck a philosophical tone.
"We needed a few breaks," he said. "We needed a few rolls."
And a few inches?
"We've been shorter than everyone we've played all year," he said.
Breshock's daughter, Tara, his assistant coach, interjected.
"We fight bigger," she said.
The Rebels fought Hillcrest to a standstill for nearly 3 1/2 quarters Wednesday, finally wilting over the final five minutes as the Hawks turned a five-point lead into a 65-52 win.
Hillcrest (20-5, 13-0) locked up the South Suburban Blue title for the second consecutive season, and its 15th conference title in the last 17. South (20-5, 11-2) was stymied in its efforts to win its first South Suburban Blue crown and set a program record for wins in a season.
The Rebels' next chance to post its 21st win comes Tuesday at the T.F. North Class 4A Regional, where the ninth-seeded Rebels face No. 8 Marist.
At the very least, South figures to be better-rested for that contest. On Tuesday, the Rebels beat sister school T.F. North.
"We had a tough game against North," Breshock said. "With the type of game it was — pack the place, emotional, the physicality of it — to ask these kids, without preparation, on senior night, boys asking girls to prom, all the distractions, I couldn't be prouder of them."
South grabbed an early 9-5 lead, but Hillcrest answered with a 12-0 run. Hillcrest did it the way it approached the entire evening — by pounding the ball inside. The Hawks were led 5-foot-11 freshman Joshulyn Shepherd's 21 points, including two buckets to close out the first quarter.
Hillcrest also got 10 points and seven rebounds from 6-0 center Tierra Sanders, and 12 points from Tanzania Sherrill, who at 5-8 was as tall as any Rebels player to see the floor.
South, despite making just 5-of-20 shots from the floor in the period, scrapped back to within 23-20 at the half. Breaking the vaunted Hillcrest press with relative ease and running the floor with Ren'Cia Rolling (19 points) and Ninah Bertrand (17) the Rebels were within two points late in the third quarter, and within five with 4:56 to play.
"They're a very talented ball club," Hillcrest coach John Maniatis said. "Their guards were able to break us down on the perimeter. They dictated the tempo most of the game."