Hiland Boys Basketball

58 points too many for Tigers to overcome as Hawks move on to regionals

Hiland's Kody Miller and Strasburg's Jerrod Willoughby

In a normal high school basketball game, 58 points is not an unusual number. Teams score 58 all the time. Sometimes that number wins; sometimes it loses. But on one district finals night at Claymont High School, giving up 58 points was a one-way ticket for Strasburg to get ousted from the tournament as the Hiland Hawks dealt the Tigers a 58-48 loss.

“We’re not built to give up that amount of points,” Strasburg head coach Adam Hall said. “We felt comfortable if the game was in the high 30s or low 40s. We felt like we could score enough to win there, but I was concerned going into halftime. We were right with them, down five, but the pace of the game and knowing we don’t have enough depth to match them score for score was a concern. We are so solid defensively, so it is a credit to them for making shots and playing well.”

At the final horn Strasburg was sitting right on its scoring average at 48. However, coming in they were giving up just 34, so the 58 was a large and unusual number, one the Hawks earned by playing very well.

Hiland head coach Mark Schlabach said while his team’s execution was solid, it came down to one major factor, one that didn’t go well for Hiland a game earlier against Zanesville Rosecrans.

“It comes down to hitting big shots,” Schlabach said. “We hit big shots. The biggest shots, the ones we really needed to go down, went down tonight. You can draw the greatest play up in the world, but you’ve still got to make it. I was proud of how loose we played, and it was huge for us to score early (after the Rosecrans shooting debacle). When you are open in this game, you have to shoot. Because if you don’t, you get out of rhythm.”

Just like it had in the first two meetings, Hiland got off to a good start. Kendall Hochstetler hit a jumper, Andy Miller drove for two and Hochstetler scored off a steal for a 6-0 lead.

Mike Neidenthal hit a free throw, and Jacob Farthing scored inside to get the Tigers rolling, but Andy Miller’s three-ball gave Hiland a 9-3 lead. Just as it had done in the two prior meetings, Strasburg didn’t panic after falling behind. Mike Neidenthal scored on a put-back, and Art Plaza did the same to trim the Strasburg deficit to 9-7. Again Andy Miller drove for two, but Strasburg knotted the score at 11 on a Donald Seward jumper and Mitch Neidenthal’s drive. Hochstetler hit from downtown again, and when Farthing scored inside, Hiland held the slimmest of leads at 14-13 through one period.

Threes from Mitch Neidenthal and Seward tied the game at 19 early in the second quarter, and after a Sam Habeger drive put the Hawks up by two, Mitch Neidenthal responded with one of his own to knot things again at 21.

When the Tigers got a stop, Mike Neidenthal went to the other end and produced a lay-up to give Strasburg its first lead at 23-21. Little did Strasburg’s faithful realize it would be the only lead Strasburg would have on this night.

Will Schlabach delivered a huge three-ball to get Hiland back on top, and the Hawks extended the lead to 28-23 on Hochstetler’s two free throws and a score from Miller.

Then with time winding down, Strasburg turned it over, as did Hiland, and Mike Neidenthal uncorked a running sideways, twisting 3-pointer from near midcourt that banked home, but officials ruled it had not left his hand before the buzzer, and Hiland held a five-point edge at intermission.

Coach Schlabach said the clock was just about the only thing that could stop the Neidenthal twins.

Farthing got Strasburg closer with a jumper to begin the second half, but after Habeger completed an and-one, perhaps the biggest play of the game took place when Mike Neidenthal quickly picked up his third foul and took a seat on the pine.

“That was pretty crucial,” Hall said. “It came at an awkward time and tried to hold off as long as we could. We had to put him back in pretty immediately.”

It didn’t take Hiland long to take advantage of his absence. Schlabach dropped in a jumper, and when Hochstetler popped in a triple, the Hawks held their largest lead at 12, leading 39-27.

Realizing it was now or never, Hall rolled the dice and sent Mike Neidenthal back into the fray. It worked because he didn’t pick up another foul the rest of the way, but the damage was done.

Both Neidenthals recorded scores off of drives to cut into Hiland’s lead, but Andy Miller split the Tigers’ defense for a score. Mike Neidenthal knocked down two free throws, but Hiland held the ball for the last shot of the period and expertly ran a play for Hochstetler where he delivered a 15-footer to give Hiland a 43-33 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Andy Miller then delivered two daggers, scoring on a drive and then making a steal to feed Hochstetler for a 47-33 lead.

The final six minutes was Strasburg valiantly trying to chase down Hiland, only to see the Hawks make key shot after key shot. Strasburg never challenged, and the Hawks were once again headed back to Ohio University for a regional tilt.

“Hiland won that game tonight. Looking back on it, I don’t feel as though we lost it. Hiland won it. They played really well,” Hall said. “You take away the three; they get the drive. If you take away the drive, they pitch to the open player for a three. They really did play a great game tonight.”

Fighting through the pain

Hiland’s Inter-Valley Conference South Player of the Year Kendall Hochstetler had to dig deep to find another dose of toughness to get through the game. According to head coach Mark Schlabach, Hochstetler was very sick during the game. To see him perform the way he did was a bit of a surprise and a relief for the head coach.

“He’s been sick, really sick,” Schlabach said of Hochstetler. “We were going to limit his minutes tonight. Then he said he felt good. I’m really proud of him and the way he played tonight. That was a lot more than I thought we were going to get out of him.”

The twins go out in style

Since coming into the Tiger’s varsity program as freshmen, Mike and Mitch Neidenthal have been an integral part of the Tigers’ success story.

Their tremendous effort in what turned out to be their swan song game was typical of the way they played the game.

“We had three guys to guard two Neidenthals,” Schlabach said.

Those three guards are no slouches in Andy Miller, Jared Raber and Hunter Sommers, yet the twins still wreaked havoc inside and outside. “We played great defense on them, and they still made shots. Those guys play incredible, and they were not going to be stopped. I thought we had some defensive efforts where we played really, really hard, and they still scored.”

Hall was emotionally spent following the game but still mustered up more than enough words to relate exactly what the twins have meant to the Strasburg program over the past four years.

“This whole senior group is something special,” Hall said. “These seniors took a dormant Tigers program and made it relevant again. I can’t say enough about what they’ve done, and I hurt for them right now. But Mike and Mitch, when they walked in the door, things changed. Make no mistake about it. The attitude, the culture, everything about our program changed. We have gotten a lot of miles out of them, and they made the investment that it took to put Strasburg basketball back on the map again.”

The secret weapon

These two teams know each other so well that there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to playing each other. In their prior game two weeks earlier, the two teams played everything close to the vest. There is no reinventing the wheel in this game, but Schlabach did have a bit of a secret weapon in his bag of tricks, courtesy of point guard Andy Miller.

Miller is not a large scoring threat, but he is capable, and on this night Schlabach felt his team would need Miller to produce points.

“With the way Strasburg plays us, they aren’t going to give our shooters a lot of room,” Schlabach said. “We talked to Andy and told him he was going to have to score some. He hit that three early to get his confidence going, and he is so difficult to guard because of his quickness, and he is so strong finishing. It was really nice to see him explode like that offensively.”

“He’s a game-changer on both sides of the floor,” Hall said of Miller. “He stepped up and made some amazing plays tonight.”

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