· Basketball - Holmes County ·

Honigford’s heroics lifts Pirates past Hawks 48-47 in a thriller

Garaway's Trevor Donaldson and Hiland's Kobe Troyer lock horns during the Pirates' 48-47 win

Michigan-bound Joel Honigford can block Buckeyes, Spartans and Nittany Lions later.

For now, he will enjoy basking in the light of his buzzer-beating jump shot that lifted his Garaway Pirates to an improbable 48-47 win over rival Hiland Hawks at The Hill in Sugarcreek Friday, February 17.

Honigford’s heroics knocked Hiland out of a tie for the Inter-Valley Conference lead, and helped Strasburg win its first league title since 2001. But all of that took a backseat to what was one of the most memorable finishes in a rivalry that is rife with them over the years.

In a packed house, Garaway had scraped and clawed its way back into the action despite Hiland dominating play at times, and playing in a manner that would normally win many ball games. Yet the Pirates stood under their own bucket with seconds left to play and had a shot at victory.

The Pirates didn’t blink.

With Ty Hamsher inbounding the ball under their own bucket with 6.1 seconds to play, the goal was to inbound the pass and get it right back to Hamsher, their star, on the right block.

However, the best laid plans of mice and men…

Hamsher inbounded to Ben Mason, who quickly fired a bounce pass right back to Hamsher. Hamsher dribbled right along the baseline, but Turner Horn made a great defensive play, stepping in and forcing Hamsher to improvise. The Garaway guard lost possession, the ball careening toward the baseline. Hamsher frantically reached out, grabbed it with his right hand and diving out of bounds found the only guy he could see, Joel Honigford, standing 15 feet from the bucket.

Known more for making two-footers, Honigford knew he didn’t have time to think. All he could do was get off the shot. Chris Kline charged at Honigford, and the Hiland guard said he even tipped the high-arching shot.

After the ball hung in the air, and the game hung in the balance for seemingly what was a lifetime, Honigford’s jumper nestled into the net, setting off a jubilant Pirates celebration that looked as though a dam had burst and spewed forth a torrent of Pirates fans.

“I’m a pick-and-pop kind of guy,” Honigford said jokingly after the madness had finally subsided. “I really didn’t have any time to think. In that situation you don’t have time to process anything in your mind, it’s just get off the shot because time is running out.”

After making the shot, Honigford looked like the only guy wearing Baby Blue and Red who looked calm. He turned toward the Pirates’ side of the gym, and as the crowd went nuts, he looked like a guy out for an evening stroll.

It all happened so fast that he said he didn’t have time to think about the ramifications of what he had just done. “I shot it, I saw it swish and I didn’t even react, I just stood straight up,” Honigford said. “Then after a second it hit me, and I thought to myself, “Oh my gosh, I just hit the game-winner.”

Honigford’s only previous game-winner was against Sandy Valley earlier this year, but that was a lay-up. This one was far tougher, and in this rivalry, more important.

For the Hawks, head coach Mark Schlabach said he was pleased with his team’s effort, and said it all played out like a game they should have won. “There’s not one thing that we did tonight that we wouldn’t do again,” Schlabach said. “I thought we executed offensively down the stretch. We played great defense.” They did, even right down to defending the game-winner, in which they did absolutely everything right, only to see the ball fall.

Honigford signed to play football collegiately at the University of Michigan earlier this year, and with that now aside, he said he has enjoyed this season immensely as the Pirates continue to get better and better. He said this ranks very high on his scale of special sports moments, and it is a memory that he helped create that will surely live for a long time for not just himself, but for everyone in the gym.

Up until that moment, the game had taken on a feel like the Hawks might systematically pull away.

The two teams battled to an 8-8 tie after one quarter, and Garaway forged a 15-13 lead on a driving shot by Karson Schrock. Then Hiland finished off the second quarter in style, reeling off a 12-2 run led by Kline. Kline scored on a pair of steals, then with time winding down he stepped into a long 3-piointer that hit nothing but net to send the Hawks into the locker room up 25-17.

Garaway got back to within three at 29-27 on Phillip Gebhardt’s three-ball, but Hiland finished the quarter strong again, getting an and-one from Andy Miller, a Horn lay-up and a quarter-ending trey from Kobe Troyer for a 37-29 edge.

It was at that point that Garaway’s Malik Shaffer entered the fray. Shaffer is an impressive shooter from deep, and can get hot, but through three quarters he had posted a big, fat zero in the scoring column. That was about to change. With his team trailing 37-29, Shaffer drilled a trey to start the fourth period. Andy Miller split a pair of free throws, and Shaffer went down and duplicated that feat to trim Hiland’s lead to 38-35.

The two teams then began trading buckets for much of the quarter, but with his confidence growing, Shaffer stepped into another triple and drove it home to cut Hiland’s lead to a precarious score of 44-43.

“My teammates got me the ball in great positions,” Shaffer said. “(Hiland) plays such great defense and they close out so well, I was fortunate to get a couple of open looks and I hit them. I really wasn’t thinking about getting shots once I started making some. It was just kind of an in-the-game thing, and I think my teammates started looking for me.”

Schlabach said that his Hawks played a remarkable game defensively, and aside from Shaffer’s shots, he would take that kind of effort any night. “We let Shaffer get loose for those threes, but other than that we were great defensively tonight,” Schlabach said.

After Hiland’s Scott Troyer hit one free throw, Hamsher got loose in the paint, then fired a pass out to Shaffer, who was standing well beyond the three-point arc. With confidence now brimming, Shaffer delivered again, and Garaway had its first lead since it was up 15-13 near the start of the second quarter.

However, Shaffer wasn’t the only guy on the floor with ice water in his veins. With less than one minute to play, Turner Horn backed two defenders down and hit a tough fade-away jumper to give the Hawks a 47-46 edge, setting the stage for a wild finish.

With 31 seconds to play, Trevor Donaldson’s three rimmed out, and Kline was fouled. His first shot caromed off the rim, and Garaway rebounded. Hiland had two fouls to give before getting into the bonus and gave them, and with precious seconds winding down, Hamsher fired an off-balance jumper that didn’t fall. The ball caromed left to Horn, and Honigford came rushing at him. With Horn in possession, Honigford crashed into Horn as he reached for the ball. It could have been a foul on Honigford. It could have been a jump ball. Instead it was called traveling on Horn, setting up Honigford’s heroics and writing another fantastic finish to a rivalry that continues to get better with age.

“We have had a lot of close games this year, and our kids have found ways to win,” said Garaway coach Terry Rowe. “They kept their composure and they stayed in the moment, and thankfully we had the ball there at the end. We were down again by eight at half-time and at the end of three quarters, and we chipped away before Malik started making some shots and believed in himself, and our kids found him.

“I thought it was a great game on both sides. Hiland stepped up and made some huge plays when they had to and made some nice runs. They are a tough team and we feel fortunate to be able to defend our home turf.”

Hiland has lost three of its four games this year in tough fashion. Three of its four losses have been an overtime thriller to Strasburg and the prior Garaway game that came down to the final seconds. Now this one. Those losses will test a team’s mental toughness, and Hiland has responded well after each loss.

“It’s tough,” Schlabach said of the finish. “When you execute and you play that hard you deserve to win a game.” Schlabach went on to say that his team has responded well to losses all season, although the losses have bee few. He expects his team will rise to overcome this wickedly difficult loss just as they have before.

“Our focus is now on the tournament, and we have to do something we haven’t done for a while. We haven’t been out of districts the past four years, and if we can bounce back, and show some toughness and resiliency after this, then we can do what we haven’t done the past four years. We have had some tough losses but I have confidence in our kids that they’ll bounce back.”

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