Taratuta’s 37 points propels Hillman to district championship win over Mio

A classic rivalry, featuring two historic programs and a pair of legendary head coaches in front of a raucous crowd for a district championship.

What more can you ask for?

That’s exactly what we got on Friday night in Mio as the Thunderbolts and Hillman boys basketball teams clashed for the second time in the season, but this time, a district championship was on the line.

The rematch was nothing like the first meeting between the two schools as Hillman cruised to a 25-point victory just less than a month ago.

Friday’s district title game was an absolute slugfest for three quarters, but in the end, Hillman superstar Trenton Taratuta and the Tigers were too much for Mio as Hillman won its second straight district championship with a 63-53 victory behind Taratuta’s game-high 37 points.

“I’m so proud of our entire group. We had a lot of guys step up today. Obviously Trenton, but A.J. Jones, Braylon Firman and Blake Kennard has some of their strongest games of the year and it was a good team effort tonight and to come win on Mio’s home court is special and credit to our amazing fan base as always for giving us a spark,” Hillman coach Eric Muszynski said. “Trenton is certainly special and is a total team guy and it got us going tonight. It’s a great to have a kid of his caliber on the court because he can take over and get everyone involved as well. He’s just a special player.”

Hillman got off to a fast start, jumping out to a 15-5 lead in a fast-paced beginning to the contest.

The Mighty Bolts refused to back down and stormed back in a huge way, scoring the final seven points in the quarter to cut the lead to 16-14 after one as Austin Fox beat the buzzer with a midrange jumper.

Fox finished with a team-high 25 points and Zeke Morris scored 11 points for the Thunderbolts.

Mio wasn’t done as it added four more unanswered points to begin the second quarter to grab their first lead of the game.

After a quiet quarter in his standards, being held to just five points, Trenton Taratuta caught fire in the second and helped the Tigers regain the lead by scoring eight straight Hillman points to put the Tigers in back in front with 1:47 left in the half.

Both teams went back-and-forth the rest of the quarter, but A.J. Jones put the Tigers on top at the break, beating the buzzer by banking in a three to give Hillman a 27-24 lead.

The teams continued to exchange blows throughout the third quarter, but the Thunderbolts had no answer for slowing down Taratuta who continued to fill it up, pouring in 14 points in the third to keep Hillman on top with a 44-40 lead heading to the fourth quarter.

Mio did all it could to keep pace with the Tigers through three quarters, but there was no stopping Taratuta and the Hillman scoring attack in the final quarter.

Braylon Firman added 14 points and Jones chipped in with 10 points in the Hillman victory.

Taratuta added 10 more points in the fourth to help Hillman extend the lead and break the game open midway through the quarter when Taratuta scored his 37th point of the night to give the Tigers a commanding 59-46 lead with under two minutes to play as Hillman closed the game and captured back-to-back district titles and seventh in the last decade.

“We always preach at some point we’re going to ware teams down physically or mentally. Down the stretch we did a great jobs getting in gaps and attacking Mio’s defense as it began to loosen up,” Muszynski said. “We adjusted really well all night and wore them down which is a staple of our program.”

The Tigers advance to Monday’s regional semifinal contest at Deckerville against Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary at 5:30 p.m.