Paul Miller photos
“Run, run, run, as fast as you can. You can’t catch me. I’m the Gingerbread Man.”
The Hiland Hawks played the role of the Gingerbread Man against East Canton and produced a trio of runs that produced a milestone victory.
With head coach Mark Schlabach’s 400th career varsity boys coaching victory hanging in the balance, the Hiland Hawks left little to chance in destroying East Canton 68-22 on Friday, Jan. 11 at Hiland High School’s Perry Reese, Jr. Community Center.
The Hawks used a trio of gigantic runs throughout the game to put this one in the win column and give Schlabach his coveted 400th career victory.
The Hawks used a 12-0 run to begin the game to put themselves in prime position, got a 13-point run in the second period to move ahead by 27 and finally put together a sizzling 16-point run between the end of the second period and start of the third quarter that stretched the lead out to 41 points.
“Those types of runs all come from the defensive end,” Schlabach said. “Any time those happen it is based on our defense, and getting multiple stops in a row seems to compound itself and makes us want to get the next one even more. Nothing is more frustrating to teams than getting stopped on offense possession after possession, and our kids take a lot of pride in doing that.”
It was all good fun for Hiland as it cruised to victory.
“We felt like this could be a trap game for us because East Canton’s record doesn’t show how good they can be, and with this one falling between the Garaway and Triway games, we were a little leery,” Schlabach said. “We were really pleased with the way our kids came out and gave us such a great effort. We were really focused.”
While a host of Hawks made the win happen, senior Kendall Hochstetler caught fire early and did most of the damage as the Hawks ran away and hid.
Hochstetler scored on a drive to open the game, and Andy Miller took a Kody Miller pass and laid it in. A Kody Miller steal led to two Hunter Sommers free throws, Hochstetler nailed a 3-pointer and Andy Miller came up with consecutive steals, the second one leading to a Will Schlabach trey that made it 12-0.
Joey Knopp scored four quick points for the Hornets, but Hiland’s relentless defense was taking a massive toll. Kyle Miller hit a triple, Will Schlabach scored on a drive and Hochstetler took a picture-perfect assist from Andy Miller and converted it into an and-one. The Hawks led 20-6 at the end of one quarter.
Like the Gingerbread Man, Hiland was about to run again, and if fans thought Hochstetler’s eight first-quarter points were special, they were about to get treated to a show in the second period.
After East Canton’s Andrew Gothard scored inside to make it 20-8, Hochstetler hammered home a three-ball, and when Gothard added a free throw, the Hawks were ready to roll again. Sam Habeger split two free throws, Will Schlabach knocked down his second triple, a Hochstetler steal led to a Habeger and-one, Jared Raber’s steal turned into a Hochstetler layup, Hochstetler nailed a jumper, another Andy Miller steal led to a Korrie Hostetler score inside and Hochstetler drove the lane to make it 36-9.
Knopp ended the run with a driving layup, but with time winding down in the half, the Hawks would begin their third and final run to put this one away. Hochstetler threw in a long 3-pointer, and after forcing a turnover with 11 seconds left, Hiland worked the ball around to their high-scoring senior who threw down a 3-pointer with one second to play to give the Hawks a commanding 42-11 halftime lead.
“We like to get Kendall going early. Because when he is knocking down shots, it takes the pressure off of our other guys to have to score,” coach Schlabach said. “He scored 25 points and barely took a shot in the second half, and when he scores, we play better.”
The final run continued to start the third period as the Gingerbread Man careened out of sight. Andy Miller opened the second half with a drive for two, and then he fed Hochstetler for an easy deuce. Sommers then fed Andy Miller for a score, Habeger scored inside and another Hornets turnover allowed Will Schlabach to break free in the lane and hit a runner to give the Hawks a 52-11 lead.
Two scores from Hostetler and Will Schlabach’s third trey of the game helped the Hawks push the lead to 61-20 at the end of three quarters. Hochstetler’s final two points of the game gave the Hawks their largest lead of the game at 63-20 to begin the fourth quarter, and coach Schlabach unloaded the bench shortly thereafter as he gave his reserve players some valuable varsity playing time.
Hochstetler ended the night with 25 points to lead all scorers while Will Schlabach knocked down a career-high 13. Habeger added eight, Hostetler netted seven, Kyle Miller scored five, Andy Miller added four and Ryan Miller scored two for the Hawks. East Canton got nine from Knopp in defeat.
As for his 400th win, coach Schlabach said a lot of things factor into any coach coming up with that number, which he has achieved in 19 seasons, meaning he is averaging upward of 20 wins per season.
He said having a wife and family who allow him to do what he does has been huge. Having players willing to invest and buy into the work ethic needed and having parents who understand that have been big assets, and having kids who are team-oriented who aren’t the superstars but are the kids who want to fit in and find a role to help the team has been a crucial element to his program’s success as well, first at Loudonville, where he coached the girls one year and the boys for four seasons, and now with Hiland, where he is currently in his 14th year.
“Those kids who want to work and be a part of the program, they are the ones who ultimately make us go,” Schlabach said. “We have a lot of those kids. We haven’t had a ton of superstars, just great kids with great attitudes who provide a tremendous locker room presence and leadership.”
He ended by noting that along the way in his 19 years he has been blessed to work with a number of outstanding assistant coaches who have made his job so much easier.
After playing at Hiland High School under head coach Perry Reese, Mark Schlabach went to the College of Wooster, where he played under gifted coach Steve Moore. He said having the honor of playing for those two coaches pushed him toward his desire to someday become a head coach.
“My heroes were coaches, so it was kind of something I always wanted to do,” coach Schlabach said. “As for 400 wins, I don’t think I have ever thought about the number of wins. I don’t think I’ve ever thought beyond the year we are in and how we can be the best we can be.”