The Hiland Hawks didn’t just remove the monkey off their back. They kicked it out the door and into the cold.
After having dropped seven straight to the Garaway Pirates including a thrilling Pirates win earlier this season, the Hawks got what they were looking for in a game that saw them take the lead and never look back in a 56-31 victory.
“That second half was a great effort,” Hiland head coach Mark Schlabach said. “It was a very good team effort where we got contributions from everyone.”
For Hiland it was a nearly perfect final three quarters of basketball that made for the easy win. For the Pirates it was a worst-case scenario as Garaway was unable to put the ball into the bucket, and that spelled doom from the start.
After nailing 17 three-pointers in their prior game, the Pirates went ice cold from downtown, missing their first 20 three-point attempts. It wasn’t until reserve Brevin Weaver came in and hit a triple with less than one minute to play that Garaway finally was able to connect. In fact, outside of that three-ball and Ethan Roden’s impressive 8-of-9 shooting from in close, the rest of the Pirates made an anemic three field goals.
“We can’t shoot the way we did and compete against a good team,” Garaway head coach Terry Rowe said. “The first half we got a lot of good looks, looks that we have made all year. I told the boys this is the first time we have shot like this. When you’re a perimeter-based team, you hope you come in and find a guy who is making shots, but it was everybody misfiring tonight from outside of 2 feet. It was almost like we were waiting around for someone to hit the first jump shot, and it never came.”
Hiland’s Andy Miller split two free throws to begin the game, and that would give the Hawks a lead they would never relinquish. Miller and Scott Troyer would each score five first-period points, and only Roden would find success for the Pirates, collecting all six points as the Hawks built a 12-6 first-quarter edge.
Roden would help get Garaway to within five at 14-9 in the second quarter, but a Sam Habeger score inside was followed by Miller’s steal and score and Kendall Hochstetler’s put-back, and the Hawks were dangerously close to blowing it open.
Austin Fearon’s two free throws and another Roden score inside drew the Pirates to within 20-13, but Miller was the catalyst for a big finish to the half, scoring on a drive and then draining a 3-pointer to give Hiland a 25-13 halftime lead.
“We had Andy Miller tonight, and they didn’t, and that was pretty much the difference in the game,” Schlabach said.
Then came what may have been the biggest moment of the game. Garaway wanted to come out and make a statement to get back into the contest. Instead, it was Hiland that threw a flurry of punches to take total command. Scott Troyer canned a triple, Andy Miller made a steal and fed Kendall Hochstetler for a score, and then Miller hit a teardrop jumper. Suddenly Hiland was up 32-13, forcing Rowe to call a quick timeout.
“I didn’t like what happened the first two minutes of the second half,” Rowe said. “We had a couple quick turnovers, and they hit shots, and that was the exact opposite of what we wanted to see from our kids as we worked to get back in the game. All of a sudden we are down close to 20.”
Garaway quickly responded in what was their best stretch of basketball with Roden, Corey Troyer, Malik Shaffer and Trevor Donaldson creating an 8-2 run that caused Schlabach to call timeout.
“We have not had good starts to third quarters this year,” Schlabach said. “We had already planned that if they came out and went on a 4-0 run, we were calling timeout. So to get off to a big start was huge. Of course Garaway does what they always do and made a big run and forced us to call timeout.”
The Hawks settled back in and took a 15-point lead into the final quarter, where things were about to go all their way.
“When we got down 15, we knew they were going to spread the floor and make us chase, and that was what they did, and they did it well,” Rowe said.
Damien Kandel’s drive started the quarter, but Roden responded inside. Kobe Troyer then hit on a driving layup, and Corey Troyer split two free throws for the Pirates to make it 44-28.
That was when Hiland dug in and went on a 12-0 spree that included some showcase ball from Miller and a solid contribution in the paint from Hochstetler, Kandel and Habeger. It wouldn’t be until very late that Weaver’s triple would end all of the scoring.
“I thought our guys did a much better job tonight of paying attention to the scouting report,” Schlabach said of his Hawks. “Scott on Shaffer and Kendall on Erik Miller did a great job of closing out and defending. They did miss some open shots, but we did a much better job of defending the perimeter. We tried really hard to make them score in other ways tonight.”
As for Miller’s effort, Schlabach said his point guard is becoming more comfortable with scoring in addition to doling out assists, and when Hiland’s top-two scoring threats Scott Troyer and Kobe Troyer got in early foul trouble, Miller took it upon himself to create offense.
“Andy has continued to improve a little bit each game in his decision-making and scoring,” Schlabach said. “We know what he will give us defensively, but tonight he was phenomenal on both ends.”
As Garaway continued to misfire, Rowe said the typical response is to press to make something happen. He felt like his team may have done that as it struggled to find the net.
“We had some really good looks early on, and then all of a sudden we are 0-for-6 and 0-for-8 from the 3-point line,” Rowe said. “We had our opportunities, and all of a sudden we’re down 10. We are a good enough shooting team that we can’t let that bother us.”
The win gave Hiland 10 straight victories against some top teams, and Schlabach said that over that span they have played at such a high level, a level that requires such focus and discipline that it can take a toll physically and mentally.
“I’m proud of our guys that they have been able to sustain the level of effort and focus they have exhibited over that span,” Schlabach said.
Miller ended the evening with 20 points while Scott Troyer added 14 and Hochstetler chipped in with eight. Roden was the lone Pirate to find success, knocking down 18 points to lead the Pirates.