Photos by Paul A Miller
After falling to Indian Valley and Garaway in heartbreaking fashion midway through this season, Mark Schlabach’s Hiland Hawks stood at 6-5, and the head coach was wondering when his team was going to put together a run that would show people exactly what this Hawks team is capable of accomplishing.
Little did he know that an eight-game winning streak in a very short span was about to take place, which would bump his team to a fine 14-5 record, and not only is Schlabach’s team winning the games it is highly touted to win, the Hawks also are finding ways to defeat the toss-up games that could go either way. That run has included wins over John Glenn, East Canton, Triway, West Holmes and most recently a talented River team.
“We knew that with having eight games in such a short span, it could go one way or another,” Schlabach said. “I think offensively we have gotten in nice rhythm with multiple people playing well at the same time, which we didn’t have early in the year. It’s been a nice run, and it has been against a fairly tough stretch of teams.”
The Hawks traveled to Hannibal River on Saturday, Feb. 3 to face a Pilots team that has been tearing teams apart this season. In addition the Pilots boast one of the best players in Ohio in Lukas Isaly, a do-it-all talent who has scorched the Hawks in the past.
Isaly did his thing again, posting a 29-point night, but the Hawks got a 29-point performance of their own from senior Scott Troyer, and the Hiland defense and balanced scoring did the rest in a come-from-behind 68-53 road win that may have been one of the team’s finest wins this year.
“I know our guys were mentally drained coming off such a long stretch of games, and that was why we were so pleased to see us put together such a great effort against an undefeated River team,” Schlabach said. “We showed some mental toughness.”
The Hawks trailed by six points at 16-10 through the first period and fell behind by nine early in the first quarter before buckling down on defense. Isaly got the Pilots rolling early by scoring 12 of his 29 points in the first quarter, but Troyer was able to lead a surge in the tail end of the second half that allowed the Hawks to trim River’s lead to just 29-25 at intermission.
“We didn’t play horrible the first half; they just outplayed us,” Schlabach said. “They played harder and more physical, and they had a lot of energy and momentum, and Isaly was hitting some ridiculous shots. They are super-excited about this season, so it was a great atmosphere to play in.”
Scott Troyer scored 11 of Hiland’s 15 points in the quarter, and the Hawks came out of the locker room looking to make a dent by use of the long ball. It paid off in a big way as the Hawks had four different players nail treys, including Scott Troyer, Kendall Hochstetler, Kobe Troyer and Sam Habeger.
The Hawks entered the fourth period clinging to a two-point lead, and while Isaly tried to keep the Pilots within striking distance by toting seven points in the final period, the Hawks relentless half-court pressure defense and some clutch play by Scott and Kobe Troyer and Andy Miller kept River at distance.
Kobe Troyer did the damage early on in the quarter by scoring seven of his 14 points, and when River was forced to put the Hawks on the free throw line late, Scott Troyer and Miller simply took over. The two combined to make all nine of their free throw attempts, and that never allowed River to make a dent in the double-digit Hiland lead. For the game the dynamic Hiland guard duo exhibited perfection from the charity stripe, going a sizzling 17-of-17 on the night.
“Those two guys played with such incredible confidence all night long that when they went to the line, you just felt sure that they were going to make it,” Schlabach said of the two free throw shooters.
What might be the most telling tale of the night was the number of shots taken for the two 29-point scorers. Isaly hoisted a whopping 28 shots to get to 29 while Scott Troyer proved to be incredibly efficient, shooting just nine shots.
River ended up putting just three players in the score book with Isaly’s 29 points, John Murphy’s 14 and Drew Dietz’s 10, proving to be the only trio of Pilots to find the net versus Hiland’s staunch defense.
Meanwhile the two Troyers had plenty of additional help. Miller ended the night with 11 points, Hochstetler netted seven, Damien Kandel added four and Habeger chipped in with three to continue the Hawks’ winning ways.
Schlabach said the string of success coinciding with Habeger’s return to health is no coincidence.
“We have been a very different team since he got healthy,” Schlabach said of Habeger.
The win over River was the first in a series of four regular season-ending games that should be quite challenging for Hiland. The Hawks must face Indian Valley and Garaway, both teams they lost to earlier this season, at home before taking on one of the Inter-Valley Conference North’s top-tier teams in the IVC Basketball Showcase.
“I think our rotation is finally set, and our depth has come around,” Schlabach said of the Hawks finding their identity. “We are going to be more of a grind-out team, and that is who we are. We are going to grind teams down defensively, so when we find our offense like we did, we can be pretty good.”