Hiland Boys Basketball

Hawks earn another district title with defense in 42-29 win over River

A hard-earned district crown for Hawks

In a low-scoring game, when one player scores 24 points, that goes a long way in leading a team to victory. Against Hiland in the Div. IV East District championship game on Friday, March 9, River superstar Lukas Isaly posted a terrific 24-point game, even in the face of being double- and triple-teamed much of the night.

However, just as he has done all season long, Mark Schlabach’s team played an outstanding defensive game and limited the rest of the Pilots’ team to just five points in a 42-29 Hawks’ victory.

“We’re happy being here anytime we can be,” Schlabach said with relief after the game.

This mark’s a second straight district title, last year’s coming in Div. III play. “This was a real slugfest. A tough game. They are really good. They are physical, and I didn’t think it would be that tough for both teams to score tonight.”

“This was a really physical game,” River head coach Mark Romick said. “I’ll tip my cap to both teams. Both teams played hard. They played physical, but it was clean. I thought we played great defense against them because they are a handful offensively.”

All night long Hiland’s defensive wizard Andy Miller was tasked with getting up close and personal with Isaly, who burned the Hawks for 29 points in Hiland’s win earlier this season.

Despite having one of the finest on-ball defenders in Div. IV dogging him at every turn, Isaly is so smooth, so quick and so electric that it is rare for a single player to stop him, let alone slow him down. That was where Hiland’s help defense came into play.

All night long the Hawks were able to provide additional help for Miller at every turn, and somehow despite doubling and tripling down on Isaly, they were able to rotate and get back to defending the rest of the Pilots, giving up just five points to the rest of the team.

“Early on, neither team shot it great,” Schlabach said. “It all starts for us defensively with Andy, but our other guys did a great job tonight with help. We had to have two or three guys on him all night to make it tough. But our bigs tonight rebounded a lot better than we did the first time we played them. I thought that was the biggest key to the game, our rebounding.”

Kobe Troyer certainly made a statement early on, ripping a pair of 3-pointers to give the Hawks a 6-0 lead. Isaly hit two free throws and a driving layup, and then John Murphy scored inside. At 6-6 it was game on as both teams went into a very physical style of play that made it tough to score. Miller’s three-ball gave Hiland an 11-8 lead through the first period, but a raucous Pilots fan-base got fired up when Isaly gave River a 14-13 lead. However, Scott Troyer’s jumper and a score at the buzzer by Kobe Troyer on a perfectly executed back-door lob pass spotted the Hawks to a 17-14 halftime lead.

“When I looked up at the scoreboard at half and we had held them to 17 points, I felt really good, but they play really great defense.” Romick said.

Miller hit two free throws, and Isaly scored again inside before the Hawks went on a tear that spelled the difference in the final score.

It started with a Miller drive for two. Then Scott Troyer hit two straight threes and scored on an acrobatic drive. Suddenly the Hawks were up 13 at 29-16.

“Scott had a huge game at their place, so we really wanted to get him going if we could,” Schlabach said. “He didn’t have a very good first half, so we tried to get him the ball more in the second half. Once he hit one, he kind of got on a roll, and that was the difference.”

Isaly then pushed to get the Pilots back into the game, trimming Hiland’s lead to 31-25 midway through the fourth period.

However, as the Pilots began to implement a full-court press, Hiland found success by going over the top of it for some easy scores. The first came on a Damien Kandel layup with 3:41 left to play that gave Hiland a 33-25 lead. River misfired on their end, and again Hiland went over the top, this time to Kendall Hochstetler, who laid in a wide-open layup for a 35-25 lead.

Isaly hit two free throws, but again the Hawks beat River’s press over the top, and Kandel was the recipient of a chip shot.

Over the final three minutes Hiland did what it does best on offense, utilizing its quickness out front and posting Kandel at the high post to carve off huge chunks of time.  With just over one minute to play, Isaly missed, went for the rebound over Kandel and picked up his fifth foul. Kandel knew then that the game was over and marched to the other end to split two free throws to seal the win.

Romick made no excuses and said that what hurt his team was that it simply didn’t make shots. “They were able to separate from us in the second half, and we didn’t make shots,” Romick said. “We had some good looks but didn’t get them to go down.”

Romick went on to sum up the atmosphere at Cambridge High School, where the gymnasium was absolutely crammed to the rafters and the level of noise was deafening. “With the intensity and the hype of the game and everything, it was such a high level of intensity. You have to tip your cap to all of these kids. They played their hearts out.”

As for Isaly, Romick said coaching his star guard was an opportunity that doesn’t come along often. “Those are the type of kids who come along once in a lifetime,” Romick said. “He is just an outstanding young man.”

This Hiland team continues to go about its business in a very workmanlike way, using its defensive prowess to set up its offense, spreading the ball around and finding ways to defeat good teams. This particular district title was a rough one, the Hawks having to defeat talented Malvern and River teams with the fourth team being top-seeded Strasburg, which River knocked off.

Stopping a talented River team with a player who will garner attention as the OHSAA Div. IV Player of the Year is par for the course for this Hiland crew.

“When our seniors were sophomores on JV, there wasn’t any standout superstar talent, but we were super excited about the opportunity to coach them,” Schlabach said. “They have proven us right. I have enjoyed coaching this group because of the kind of kids they are.”

While Isaly netted 24 points, Hiland countered with balance including getting 12 from Scott Troyer, 11 from Miller, 10 from Kobe Troyer and seven from Kandel.

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