NATICK —Alex Hilger picked a spot beyond the 3-point line and went about trying to find his jump shot. The Natick High junior point guard had about a minute during the halftime shootaround to rediscover the stroke that had abandoned him for the first 16 minutes of a home game against Wellesley last week.
He sighed when his first attempt clanged off the rim. He called for another ball when his second shot missed. Another brick followed, and he shook his head. When his last try was off the mark, he opened his eyes wide. “Wow,” he said to himself, below the buzzing of the packed field house at Natick High.
But Hilger is a scorer. With an average of 17.4 points per game, he leads the Bay State Conference’s Herget Division. And as scorers are wont to think, he knew he would find his release. He just had to keep shooting.
Less than two minutes into the third quarter, open at the top of the key, Hilger did not hesitate. His trey found the net, the Red Hawks crowd erupted, and he clapped, rejuvenated, as he ran back on defense.
“The biggest part of my game is confidence,” Hilger said. “My coaches say it all the time — when I’m confident, I play well. It’s all in my head. I know I have the stroke and the scoring capability so I never doubt myself. Whenever I shoot, I feel like I should be able to make it, you know?”
Hilger finished with 13 points in his team’s 67-56 loss to the Raiders, but even after the defeat, the Red Hawks (11-6) were still in the running for their second consecutive Herget title. They are guaranteed to be back in the Division 1 South postseason tournament, thanks in large part to a free-flowing motion offense with Hilger at its controls.
It is a delicate balance, being the go-to scorer and the team’s facilitator, but Natick coach Jay Johnson said he trusts Hilger to pull it off.
“I think we try to help guys to have some shot accountability, what’s a good shot and what’s not a good shot,” Johnson said. “With Alex, there aren’t a lot of not-good shots. He can create in difficult spots with guys on him going to the basket. The open three, we also like. And his shot awareness as the season has gone on has only gotten better and better.”
With an ability to catch fire from deep — he made nine 3-pointers in a win over Milton earlier this season — and the athleticism to get to the rim in a blink, Hilger presents a problem for most opponents.
“Our main focus was just containing him,” said Wellesley junior guard Aidan James , who scored 16 points in the game to lead the Raiders. “He’s a great scorer so we knew he was going to get his points, but we just wanted to limit him as much as he could. That was our main emphasis tonight: Just limit the scorers. That’s what we did.”
In its road win, Wellesley used a 1-2-2 zone, man-to-man, and box-and-one defenses to keep Hilger in check.
“We just wanted to make sure that we knew where he was at all times,” said Wellesley coach Glen Magpiong .
“Alex is a terrific player . . . We wanted to get up in his face and make him beat us with twos, not threes. Because he will step back and he’ll hit a three. It’s hard. It’s a hard matchup.”
Hilger was not always such a scoring threat. He grew up as a point guard, but was of average height and focused more on distributing. Then he grew 3 inches going into his freshman year, and became a walking mismatch. He continued to work on his jumper relentlessly, whether playing for the Massachusetts Bearcats AAU team, at a local gym alone, or with his dad Walt in their driveway at home. He found that he was able to shoot easily over smaller defenders.
“He wasn’t always the tallest kid, but he grew,” said Natick junior Colin Leddy , shaking his head. “And he’s a point guard . . . He’s so dynamic. He can do it all.”
Natick depends on a well-balanced scoring sheet, and if Hilger goes cold, he has plenty of talented teammates to pick up the slack. Joe Carty (12.1 points per game), a 6-foot-6 senior center, stretches the floor with his ability to knock down threes. Senior Peter Erhardt grinds away in the paint, while senior Deonte Flournory , sophomore Brian Dunlap, and junior Troy Flutie have been effective slashing from the perimeter.
Hilger was a talented receiver in the Natick football program’s high-powered spread offense (quarterbacked by Flutie) that made it all the way to the Division 2A Super Bowl before losing to Beverly. He has received interest for his skills as a wideout from Division 1 colleges, including the University of Massachusetts, University of Rhode Island, University of Connecticut, Harvard, and Dartmouth. He has already made a visit to Boston College.Continued...