Hiland Boys Basketball

Cornerstone proved to be the real deal in defeating Hawks 51-41 in state semi

Damien Kandel tips off Hiland's 10th state tournament appearance

In a season that was defined by the blue-collar work of a team with no standouts, the Hiland Hawks attacked their confrontation with the state’s top-ranked Cornerstone Christian Patriots with the same vigor and effort they have shown all season.

This team of overachievers reached deep inside to produce one more incredible effort against a team as talented as any they have played this season in the Thursday, March 22 game at the Schottenstein Center’s Value City Arena, but the Hawks would eventually succumb to a patient and athletic Patriots team 51-41.

The two teams fought all game, and even down eight points with 40 seconds to play, Hiland wasn’t about to give in. However, in the end a 14-0 run in the first period proved to be Hiland’s undoing as Cornerstone advanced with a 51-41 victory in a game that felt like Hiland was battling uphill all game long.

“We were right there,” Hiland coach Mark Schlabach said. “We were one possession away from putting all of the pressure on them. But when you get behind, it shortens your bench a bit. Plus foul trouble made it a little bit tougher for us than what we were hoping it would be.”

Scott Troyer got the Hawks off on the right foot with a three-ball and a score inside to give Hiland an early 5-2 lead. At that point CCHS’s full-court pressure defense began taking a major toll as the Hawks started to turn the ball over at an uncharacteristic clip.

At the same time All-Ohioan Michael Bothwell started heating up, scoring, and he and big man Kendall Saunders provided a nifty 14-0 run that put Hiland in a huge hole at 16-5.

“That was really big for us,” CCHS head coach Dan Selle said. “That Hiland team is a proud team with a lot of tradition. They sit in half court and play really hard defense, and it was a dogfight. There was nothing given easy out there today, but our guys saw their way through to get the W.”

It was about that time that Hiland fans started wondering if they could even compete with this talented, athletic and extremely disciplined Patriots team.

Kendall Hochstetler finally got the Hawks out of their scoring doldrums by nailing a 3-pointer from the corner, and when Hochstetler scored inside off a great assist from Andy Miller, the Hawks had closed the gap to 16-10 through period number one.

Bothwell wasn’t about to let Hiland creep back into the game, and he connected on a long 3-pointer to start the second period. Damien Kandel answered inside with a score for Hiland, and when Kobe Troyer ripped a deep triple, the Hawks had again closed to within four at 19-15.

However, each time Hiland threatened, the Patriots had an answer, and this time it was a Titus Wheeler three-point play and Bothwell’s drive that gave CCHS a 24-15 advantage. Bothwell made another free throw, and Kandel knocked down a short jumper to make it 25-17 before both teams went into a scoring funk for the next couple of minutes. Neither team could produce a single point over the final 3:30 of the half, and the Patriots held a 25-17 lead at intermission.

Halfway through the third period, CCHS had built a 10-point lead on the strength of Saunders and Jeremy Owens, but trailing 30-20, the Hawks were about to make their first real challenge. Scott Troyer scored on a drive, and Kobe Troyer added a pair of free throws, and Hiland’s defense was clamping down on the Patriots despite a corner three from Ricky Adams. Hochstetler answered with a triple of his own, and when John Sisson hit two free throws, the Hawks were within four at 33-29 with 34 seconds to play in the third quarter. The answer for CCHS this time came courtesy of Bothwell, who somehow drained an off-balance three from deep to send momentum the way of the Patriots, who now led 36-29 with eight minutes left.

However, Hiland wasn’t done challenging for the lead, nor were the Hawks going to go quietly. Kobe Troyer clipped a three-ball with 6:12 remaining to trim the deficit to 36-32, and after Kandel came away with a steal, he found Kobe Troyer wide open in the corner. A made three would have drawn the Hawks to within one, but Troyer’s shot rimmed out, and moments later Saunders completed an and-one on what was essentially a six-point swing.

“We were one possession away there,” Schlabach said. “We had it at four and six a couple of times, but they were just good enough from keeping us from getting it to one possession.”

Again, Hiland would have to claw back, and it did when Scott Troyer made three out of four free throws to make it 39-35 with 4:40 to play. Bothwell split two free throws, and when Kobe Troyer connected on his two freebies, the Hawks were within one possession at 40-37 with 4:27 to play.

Unfortunately for Hiland, scoring would be tough to come by over the next 3:30 when Hiland came away with five empty possessions. Meanwhile, the Hawks were forced to foul, and the Patriots did not exactly put this one in the bag at the free throw line. Two Bothwell free throws and a Wheeler layup made it 45-37, but CCHS made just 2-of-7 free throws, which kept the Hawks’ hopes alive.

Hochstetler scored on a jumper with 1:06 to play, but time was running out on Hiland’s season. Cornerstone split four free throws, and Miller drove for a score to make it 49-41 with 27 seconds to play. Adams then hit two free throws, and Hiland was unable to score again as the clock ticked to zero on an amazingly successful Hiland campaign.

“I thought we were more confident this time around,” Bothwell said of Cornerstone’s return to state after missing out last year and winning a title in 2016. “But it was confidence in the right way. It wasn’t a cocky confidence. It was a confidence in ourselves that we put in the work and deserved to be here. We came here with the mindset that this was ours for the taking.”

Hiland All-Ohioans Scott and Kobe Troyer were joined by Hochstetler in scoring 10 points to lead Hiland with Kandel scoring five, Miller adding four and Sisson chipping in with two.

Bothwell was a huge difference-maker, scoring a game-high 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting, adding three blocks and four steals. Saunders played a key role as well, producing a double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds. CCHS held a 27-20 rebounding edge with Kobe Troyer being Hiland’s top rebounder with five and Kandel and Hochstetler each grabbing four.

After struggling early with the press, Hiland showed a lot more composure in the second half against the Patriots’ incredible full-court pressure. The Hawks turned it over eight times in the first half but committed just three miscues in the second half. However, Hiland’s frenetic half-court defense was only able to produce 10 Cornerstone turnovers as CCHS showed plenty of poise and patience on the offensive end.

“I thought early on we didn’t handle their pressure great,” Schlabach said. “But we settled in in the second quarter and started to play like we play.”

The way they played was really hard, all the time, all season long, which is why this team endeared itself to the Hiland fans who supported them all season.

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