Hiland Boys Basketball

Hawks go into survival mode to eke out a win over tourney rival Rosecrans

Hawks and Rosecrans get defensive

Punishing.

Brutal.

Agonizing.

Pick your poison in describing the way the Hiland Hawks and Zanesville Rosecrans Bishops Div. IV East district semifinal game played out at Coshocton High School on Tuesday, March 5.

Yes, the Hawks survived the night of horrific shooting by both squads by gutting out a 48-39 victory, but with all of the classic confrontations these two teams have played in tournament play over the years, this is certainly not one folks will play over and over again for its majesty and beauty.

“We didn’t do a good job on the boards, we didn’t make any threes, we had some big-time mental lapses in the second half, so no, it wasn’t pretty,” Hiland head coach Mark Schlabach said. “Tonight was just survive. What we did was survive.”

While both defenses frantically crawled all over their opponent, forcing turnovers and rushed or altered shots, much of the offensive struggle was of the making of each team’s own doing.

In the first period alone, Rosecrans worked the ball down on to the low block only to miss fairly open one- and two-footers, some of them barely drawing iron. The Hawks shooting was equally atrocious from outside, where few shots ever challenged the rim. Hiland did not make a single 3-point shot all night.

What Hiland did have working for it early was the inside play of Sam Habeger and Hunter Sommers. Those two combined to push the Hawks out to a 12-2 lead through one quarter as the Bishops couldn’t buy a score on the other end.

“We knew we couldn’t fall behind early, and we did,” Zanesville Bishops head coach Todd Rock said. “If you take that stretch away, which you can’t do, we played right with them the rest of the way.”

Slowly the Bishops started to get acclimated to the tempo and pressure of the game, and Weston Nern hit a 3-pointer and scored inside to trim the deficit to 16-9. Kendall Hochstetler knocked down a pair of free throws, and after Marcus Browning scored for Rosecrans, Habeger scored again inside and Andy Miller drove for a lay-up that ended the ugly shooting first half with the Hawks leading 22-11.

“We missed so many open looks around the rim,” Rock said. “We played hard, but we just couldn’t make shots.”

If fans thought that the shooting would have to improve in the second half, they were incorrect.

Hiland led 24-14 when the game took an odd turn, a good turn for the Bishops and especially for Josh Merva. On consecutive trips down the floor, Merva drilled a 3-pointer and was fouled, completing back-to-back four-point plays that drew the Bishops to within 26-23. Schlabach called a time-out, and the game plan moving forward, at least on the next few possessions, was pretty basic: Get the ball to Habeger.

“We didn’t have a lot going offensively, so let’s get a shot as close to the basket as we can,” Schlabach said.

“We had one mismatch tonight we knew we would have, and that hurt us,” Rock said of Habeger’s play inside.

Hiland’s junior center scored inside on a nice pivot play and then produced an and-one on a similar style of move. Hiland’s lead was back to eight at 31-23. The Hawks got a stop and had a chance to build on that lead, but an ill-advised three-ball too early allowed Rosecrans to grab the board and fly down the floor where Nern canned a trey to trim Hiland’s lead to 31-26 heading into the final period.

Two Habeger scores advanced the Hawks’ advantage to 35-25 to begin the fourth quarter. Nern scored on a jumper, and after Andy Miller split two free throws, Nern struck again from downtown to leave his team trailing 36-31. Hochstetler drained two free throws, and Nern went to work again from beyond the arc, his trey cutting Hiland’s lead to 38-34.

Sommers responded with a key drive, and after Matt Applegate split two free throws, Hiland was able to carve off nearly a full minute of time by moving the ball around. Rosecrans chose not to foul but to instead attempt to get a steal. With 1:14 to play, Andy Miller sliced through the Bishops’ defense and completed a crucial and-one to push Hiland’s lead to eight at 43-35.

Applegate hit two free throws, and the Bishops were forced to foul late, where Miller and Hochstetler each made two free throws to secure a Hawks’ victory.

“I am proud of how hard our kids played and the effort they gave,” Rock said. “We had our chances. We cut it to three but couldn’t get over the hump.”

“Rosecrans plays so hard, and we knew they weren’t going to give us anything easy,” Schlabach said. “We needed a struggle game like this to challenge us. We haven’t been in many. The first half we were so helter-skelter offensively. We had opportunities but didn’t do a good job of getting the ball where we wanted it. We just kind of lost our heads. The second half we settled down, but defensively we weren’t as in tune with what we wanted to do. I think our seniors have got to feel pretty fortunate that we get to practice tomorrow.”

Habeger’s huge night led him to a game-high 19 points while Hochstetler added 10, six of those coming from the charity stripe. Miller scored nine, and Sommers added eight in a night that saw him saddled with foul trouble. Rosecrans got 17 from Nern while Merva added eight and both Applegate and Browning added five apiece.

Having played two blowout games earlier in the tournament leading up to this one meant Hiland hadn’t been in a frenetic atmosphere like this for a while. Add in the rivalry between these two schools and the pressure. Schlabach said they haven’t seen a lot of really important basketball.

“You need something in the tournament to be a little ugly, to be a game where you survive,” Schlabach said.

This one was just that, but in the end the Hawks survived to play again, meaning they can take a deep breath, learn from the experience and most importantly advance along the tourney trail.

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