Hiland Girls Basketball

A devastating loss plus Game 30 equals a state title for Lady Hawks

A grand celebration was a year in the making for Lady Hawks

Game 30.

It is the game the Hiland Lady Hawks had circled on their calendars more than one year ago after suffering what Hiland head coach Dave Schlabach said was a devastating loss to Lake Ridge Academy in the regional finals.

Game 30.

Each Lady Hawks player looked ahead into the future on their calendars, and circled Saturday, March 18, 2017 as the date that would drive them to work longer, reach farther and fight with every ounce of energy and determination they had in them.

Game 30.

It took every ounce of guts to grind out a last-second victory over a gifted Ottoville team in the state semifinal, but at 2 p.m. on March 18 at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Game 30 had finally arrived, their opponent in the state final being Div. III defending state champion Waterford.

By 3:20 p.m., the Lady Hawks were starting to get an inkling that Game 30 was going to be one wild celebration. By 3:30 p.m., the Lady Hawks starters came off the floor one-by-one to the exuberant applause of adoring fans from East Holmes, jumping into each other’s arms with joyous satisfaction.

“We have worked so hard to get here all season long to give ourselves a chance at a title we knew was within reach,” said junior Sara Keim. “I looked at Isabelle (Fowler) at the beginning of the fourth quarter, and I said, ‘We are going to win state.’ She looked back and grinned and said, ‘Yeah, we are.’ We couldn’t celebrate too early, but we kept giving each other these glances, because we all knew.”

By 3:40 p.m., Game 30 was in the books, and the Hiland Lady Hawks had found retribution from unfinished business. Game 30 was theirs to cherish forever.

All of the blood, sweat and tears leading up to Game 30 had paid off in a 61-41 victory that secured the program’s fifth state title.

While it was a game for a while, the Lady Hawks showed the 4,700-plus fans in the Schott exactly how good basketball teams unite to play the game well.

“We all thought we were good enough to win it all last year, and that loss in regionals really, really hurt,” coach Schlabach said. “It was devastating. But this group is so competitive, and we wanted to put that behind us so badly, that we all kind of kept that game in our minds all throughout the off-season and as the season went along. We knew nothing was a given, and we knew we would get tested in the end, but this group has shown such incredible guts and determination since that loss.”

The 20-point win wasn’t easy in the beginning, although it never took on the chaotic feel of the Ottoville win that saw junior Kennedy Schlabach rip a 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 44-41 win.

Neither team did much scoring in the game’s first four minutes, where Tiffany Weaver’s bucket had the Lady Hawks trailing 3-2. Jessica Troyer’s lay-up and Angela Troyer’s triple put the Lady Hawks up 7-4, but shooting struggles and turnovers allowed the Wildcats to stay close to Hiland, and the Lady Hawks had forged a 9-6 lead through one period.

In the second period, the tempo picked up, much to the chagrin of Waterford.

“We got the tempo going fast, to where we wanted it, and we probably never got it there against Ottoville,” Schlabach said. “We wanted to play fast, speed things up and we finally got a chance to play really fast there in the second.”

Hiland eventually pushed ahead by 10 points when Morgan McMillen hit a jumper and Angela Troyer nailed a pair of triples on back-to-back trips. Angela Troyer hit a short baseline jumper and Hiland held a 27-16 edge, but Waterford stormed back, trimming Hiland’s lead to seven at 27-21 with 55 seconds to play in the half.

Then in stepped senior Jessica Troyer. One of the smallest players on the floor made the biggest difference, scoring off a steal from McMillen, then calmly draining two free throws to lift Hiland back to the 10-point lead at the half at 31-21.

Game 30 was halfway over, and Hiland was feeling in control. The third period would be all Hiland, and it would come like a crashing wave, as the Lady Hawks turned the game into a rout.

After Hiland got a stop to begin the half, McMillen fired an outlet pass to Weaver. The big center ignited the crowd as she drove the left side of the lane, went behind her back around a defender and laid the ball in for two.

The Hiland bench exploded.

“I thought Tiff really got things rolling for us with that play,” Schlabach said.

Game 30 was now the Lady Hawks to take, and they seized the opportunity.

Another stop, and McMillen scored inside. One more stop, and Angela Troyer converted two free throws. A time-out, another stop for the Lady Hawks and McMillen delivered a death-blow 3-pointer. A missed Warterford three turned into an Angela Troyer lay-up on the other side, and by the 4:36 mark in the third quarter, Hiland had constructed a monumental 42-21 lead.

Now banging on all cylinders, Hiland was not about to cough this lead up. Game 30 was the Lady Hawks’ crowning achievement, and they were determined to take that championship trophy home with them.

The lead wavered between 16 and 20 points, but just for good measure, as the Hiland bench players began making their way to the scorer’s table to check in, Div. IV Player of the Year Angela Troyer put an exclamation point on the game, nailing a 3-pointer right in front of Hiland’s bench.

Retribution had been found. The bad taste of a stinging loss had disappeared. Now, that big circle around March 18, 2017 on the calendar would mean something else. It would not be circled as a driving force to work toward a goal. Now, it stood for the culminating grand achievement of hard work and teamwork, of faith in one another and commitment to perfection, which is almost what Hiland had put forth in the second half of the title game.

“This is unbelievable,” said Jessica Troyer. “I can’t stop smiling. This team has worked so hard this year to put aside last year’s loss, and all of that hard work, all of it was worth it to feel the way we feel right now. I am going to miss this so much.”

Angela Troyer left little doubt as to the validity of her Div. IV Player of the Year honor. She scored 20 points and played two sensational games at state, scoring 18 in the win over Ottoville. McMillen added 17 on the night, collecting a team-high five boards, while Jessica Troyer added nine points, four rebounds and four assists. Weaver tacked on eight points and four boards, while last game’s hero, Kennedy Schlabach added five points and doled out six assists. Waterford was paced by Alli Kern’s 17 points and 10 rebounds, while Megan Ball added nine points and 10 boards.

Without a senior on the squad, Waterford could well be right back at Columbus a fourth straight year next year, and could use this game much in the same way Hiland used its regional loss to inspire it. Waterford head coach Jerry Close also said the Lady Hawks exhibited a mental and physical toughness which served as a great example for his team.

“I have the sweetest bunch of girls anyone could ever ask for, and I’ve told them that a million times,” Close said. “I’ve told them that if I had a son, I would want him to marry any one of them. They are the sweetest kids, but tonight we weren’t tough enough and that is the conversation we had. Today we got punched in the mouth a little bit, but we knew that was coming.”

Game 30 has come and gone, and while nobody likes to lose, on this occasion, a loss played a significant role in inspiring commitment and dedication that went above and beyond, and today the Lady Hawks of Hiland celebrated a state title because of it.

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