In the 1970’s, the tabletop game Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots was a huge hit with kids all across the nation. Why? Because two plastic robot fighters faced off in Rocky fighting style and basically beat the living tar out of each other until the red or blue fighter connected with the other and literally “knocked his block off.”
The similarities between that game and the one played in the Reese Center on Tuesday night between Hiland and Sandy Valley seemed pretty familiar. The contest featured Hiland’s iconic defense against a physical and bigger opponent in the Cardinals, and the result was pretty much what one would expect.
Hiland and Sandy Valley traded punches throughout the first quarter, and two quick fouls earned playmaker Chris Kline an early seat on the bench as the Hawks held a slim 13-11 lead after one.
Turner Horn was a bright spot for Hiland, as he hit double digits early in the second period and finished with 14 at the break to help Hiland to a 29-20 advantage.
“Turner did a nice job offensively,” said Hiland coach Mark Schlabach. “He didn’t force anything and we tried to get him the ball early because he was making shots. I thought he did a really nice job of staying within the offense and not trying to do too much.”
The halftime bulge would set up a theme that would carry throughout the evening, as the Hawks would threaten to blow the game open only to see the Cardinals hit a huge shot or get a turnover to pull closer.
Another Horn drive gave Hiland a 33-22 edge in the third, giving a stingy defense what seemed an insurmountable lead. But a 6-1 Cardinals run made it 34-28 and led to a Hiland timeout to regroup. The strategy helped, and the Hawks led 41-34 into the final frame.
That’s when things got weird.
With Hiland’s swarming defense not having the effect that it often does, the game degenerated and just got ugly. After a Sandy score early in the period, the scoreboard seemed to be stuck on 41-36 for half the quarter, as the game got sloppy, filled with many fouls, whistles and complaints from both benches and fans alike. But the events did little to change the score until an Andy Miller free throw moved the meter and it was 42-36. When he added two more to make it 44-36 there was only 2:15 left in the game.
Sandy Valley kept swinging away, however, and pulled within five with a trey at the 1:55 mark, but Horn was the beneficiary of the Hawks breaking full court pressure and converted a driving layup to boost the margin back to seven. From that point on it was a free throw shooting competition amidst another Cardinals three and the host Hawks walked away with a big 54-42 IVC win that was somehow oddly closer than the final score, yet not.
Sandy’s physicality was an issue for Hiland all night, as its guard play was not directly affected and their interior size flustered the Hawks by contending shots in the paint all evening.
The style of play was not unexpected for Schlabach and the Hawks.
“They’re a nightmare match-up for us,” said Schlabach. “They’re bigger than us, they’re just as quick as we are, and you just have to grind it out.”
As for the patented Hiland defense, the pressure didn’t quite lead to the results it so often produces.
“We take a lot of the flow out of the other team’s offense,” said Schlabach. “And if we do that but don’t turn them over, then it does stagnate the game a little bit. We couldn’t turn them over and they weren’t willing to take bad shots because they’re a disciplined team.”
While the night may not have gone exactly to plan, Schlabach was still happy with the result. “We didn’t shoot it great, and there wasn’t a lot of flow, but we made free throws down the stretch and still found a way to win, which was good,” he said. “It reminded me a little bit of the Garaway game, where we didn’t get it done, so any game like that where we can pull one out is a good thing.”
Horn’s strong effort led the Hawks with 21 points, and Kline chipped in with 11. Sandy Valley’s Dan Bartholomew netted 18 points, while teammate Chad Neisel added 11 for the Cardinals.