Hiland Girls Basketball

Early momentum goes Lady Hawks way as Hiland earns another trip to C-Bus in 61-23 win over Wheelersburg

Everything came up smiles for Lady Hawks

Coming into the Div. III girls regional final tilt at Logan High School on Saturday, March 9, Hiland head coach Dave Schlabach felt it would be crucial for the Lady Hawks to forge an early lead so underdog Wheelersburg couldn’t take the air out of the ball.

Wheelersburg head coach Dusty Spradlin recognized that very thing.

“We knew coming in that we couldn’t afford to fall behind early,” Spradlin said. “We had to be good early. Then they came out and made back-to-back threes, and that was demoralizing.”

With so much teetering on the early minutes of play, where the Pirates would either gain a dose of confidence or suffer the wrath of trying to come from behind against a Hiland team that knows how to push the issue on both ends of the floor, the Lady Hawks made quite the big impression.

Brynn Mullet drained two 3-pointers to start the game and set the tone for a lopsided 61-23 victory that sent Hiland to its OHSAA-record 16th time.

“We talked about getting off to a good start being important,” Schlabach said. “Brynn is a streak shooter, so when she made the first one, we went right back to her, and that really set the tone early.”

After Mullet’s early barrage, Zoe Miller scored on a put-back, and after two Pirates’ free throws, Mullet scored on a drive, as did Shelby Miller, and Zoe Miller scored on a put-back. Abbie Kallner finally recorded Wheelersburg’ first bucket inside at 2:15 of the first quarter, but the Lady Hawks continued to press. Zoe Miller scored on a great save from Aila Miller, Kendra Shetler scored inside, and when Morgan Yoder dropped in a corner 3-pointer to end the first period, Hiland led 21-4.

The damage would get worse, much worse, for the Pirates. Yoder started the second quarter like she ended the first: with a triple. Kaylee Darnell answered with a trey for Wheelersburg. Then Hiland really dug in its heels and went to work. Zoe Miller scored on a pair of free throws, Yoder drove for two and nailed a 3-pointer, Zoe Miller scored two more inside, and Shelby Miller penetrated and found Shetler wide open with a nifty wrap-around pass. Meanwhile, Hiland’s swarming, switching half-court defense was proving to be more than a challenge for the Pirates, who now trailed 35-7.

With a little more than a half to play, anything was possible, but pretty much everyone in the gym knew this one was well in hand for the Lady Hawks.

“At the end of the day, we had to work so hard to get a good shot, and then we had to work so hard defensively to compensate for our lack of size,” Spradlin said. “They move the ball so well, and they have so many weapons that it makes it so difficult to play with them. We knew we had to be almost perfect, and we were hoping maybe it was one of those nights where they didn’t shoot it well and we did. In the end we told our kids we needed to keep fighting and take it possession by possession, but you can’t play six or seven kids against this team. They are physical, and they wear you down.”

Leading 35-16 at the half, Hiland quickly extended the lead in the third period. Zoe Miller scored inside, Yoder drove for two and Zoe Miller fed Shetler for an easy score and a 41-16 lead. Hiland kept coming in waves. Kyli Horn dropped a triple, and Aila Miller hit three free throws. It wasn’t one but many Lady Hawks making things happen.

“They come at you with so many weapons,” Spradlin said. “We just didn’t have enough players to stop them.”

When Zoe Miller scored twice to end the third quarter, Hiland held a comfortable 51-23 edge. Then just to put an exclamation point on it, Hiland went out and threw up a defensive goose egg, holding the Pirates scoreless in the fourth period. When the game came to a fitting end on senior Abby Miller’s 3-pointer, the Lady Hawks had showcased every single reason that they are more than ready to compete against the team that knocked them out of the tournament in such an agonizing way last year.

“That was amazing to come in and hit the three to end the game,” Abby Miller said. “I usually don’t get a chance to shoot threes, but I have been shooting more toward the end of the year, and I was glad it went in.”

“It was a difficult finish last year, but what it did do was gave our kids fuel for the fire,” Schlabach said of the overtime loss to Africentric. “It set the stage for the year for us.”

The effort has come from Hiland’s relentless switching defense that has baffled opponents all season.

“That started from day one this year,” Schlabach said. “We expect our post players to guard guards, and we expect our guards to guard post players. There are no mismatches, and most teams haven’t experienced that. Our kids are willing to guard whoever comes their way.”

Yoder and Zoe Miller led the Lady Hawks’ offensive attack with 16 points apiece while Zoe Miller hauled down a whopping 18 rebounds, one shy of former Lady Hawk Laurel Nippert’s record of 19 boards.

“That was just an unbelievable effort on both ends for Zoe,” Schlabach said. “This team is the best rebounding group we have ever had.”

When this season ends, both Zoe Miller and Shelter will have worked their way into the top-five all-time rebounding seasons in Hiland history.

Mullet added eight points, Horn scored seven, Shetler added six, Aila Miller and Abby Miller both scored three, and Shelby Miller tacked on two. Wheelersburg was led by Abbie Kallner’s eight and Kaylee Darnell’s seven, but the Pirates were rushed, harassed and pushed into an ugly 8-of-43 shooting night, although their guards did a nice job of handling the ball, turning it over just 14 times compared to Hiland’s eight.

Along with Zoe Miller’s 18 boards, Shetler added eight to help the Lady Hawks to a 43-22 edge on the glass.

All of the numbers add up to a confrontation with the nation’s number-four-ranked team in Africentric.

“We’ve talked every day about that loss last year, and it really hurt, but we have been able to use that as motivation,” Zoe Miller said. “Our goal was to put ourselves in position to erase that memory, and we did that. Our motivation was to play them again.”

They got their wish. Only this time it will be on center court at the Schottenstein Center at Ohio State University.

Lady Hawks sound off about a return trip to C-Bus

The Hiland Lady Hawks dismantled a good Wheelersburg team in the Div. III regional final tilt in Logan, Ohio on Saturday, March 9, and in doing so Hiland carved out a record 16th trip to the OHSAA state tournament.

After dropping a heart-wrenching one-point overtime loss in the regional finals last year to eventual champion Africentric, the Lady Hawks have set their sights on a return to Columbus as well as a rematch with the Lady Nubians. They will get both wishes when they face Africentric in the Div. III semifinal on Thursday, March 14 at the Schottenstein Center.

Schlabach said the loss last year was the single most devastating loss he had ever suffered in his 28-year career at Hiland. He also said that game served as a catalyst for this year’s young team.

“We have talked about that game and how it felt and how we can get better from that experience,” Schlabach said. “Most of our kids didn’t get to play in that game, but it still hurts because they were a part of that team. It has definitely driven this group.”

This group is a talented crop of youngsters with the bulk of them being sophomores. That a team this young has taken leadership and understands the game so well is a tribute to their commitment to the game and the program.

“This is a high-IQ group of basketball players,” Schlabach said, “especially for as young as we are. We have turned into a much better defensive basketball team than I thought we would be. This is probably the best defensive team we have ever had here. These kids seem to have a good grasp on what it takes to compete at a high level, and they have been very committed to what we have focused on from day one.”

Following Hiland’s impressive 62-23 win over a solid Wheelersburg team in the Div. III final at Logan High School, the Lady Hawks were finally able to celebrate a trip to Columbus.

Here is what the Lady Hawks said following their regional final victory:

“Going to the Schottenstein Center as part of the team has always been my dream. I’ve always watched and never been a part of the team, so to be a part now is an amazing feeling,” Abby Miller said.

“This team has a real bond. We’ve been together all the way up through. We all know we have to work together and play our roles to get where we want to be,” Zoe Miller said.

“The feeling of losing is horrible, and I think about last year’s game with Africentric every day. It’s not fun, but it makes you work a lot harder,” Morgan Yoder said.

“I know nobody was expecting anything big out of me this year, but when Kennedy and Morgan left last year, we needed leaders and role players to step up and fill some big roles. I think after a while my defense created a role for me. I love playing defense. I like the feel of getting a stop and helping my teammates make plays. We are so ready to go play,” Shelby Miller said.

“It’s not just mere any one person. It is a team that is going down to Columbus, and that is what makes it the best. The best part of it is it feels like we are just starting to create something really special with this group,” Krista Troyer said.

“My teammates do everything, and since we were little we have talked about this moment of getting to state. Even when we were little managers and we went to state and lost, it put that hunger to get to state in each of us,” Morgan Yoder said.

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