Classic in the Country

Lady Hawks and Lions leave it on the floor in Hiland’s 44-36 win in CitC finale

Kelsey Swihart and the Lady Hawks fly high versus Gahanna Lincoln

When the music group Drowning Pool wrote and sang the song, “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor,” it may well have painted a picture-perfect theme for the final game of Classic in the Country XVI. The Hiland Lady Hawks hadn’t experienced many challenges this season coming into Classic in the Country XVI Jan. 19-21.

They have now.

After facing a fierce test in Margaretta on day one, they had an even tougher challenge in Gahanna Lincoln, a fast and furious group who came in hoping to ruin Hiland’s grand finale in the Perry Reese, Jr. Community Center.

The Lions’ blend of power, speed and ability to pressure on ball was exactly what Hiland coach Dave Schlabach wanted his team to experience.

What they got was a knock-down, drag-out battle in which bodies were flying and littering all over the hardwood. The bodies were indeed hitting the floor in an all-out effort from both teams, but it would be Hiland capturing a rugged 44-36 victory to go 2-0 for CitC XVI.

“I think that style of play just makes us want it more,” sophomore post-player Zoe Miller said of the banging, rugged play. “It makes us just want to get to the next play and get it back. It can be frustrating, but just knowing you’re after the next one keeps you going.”

Just as she did in the first game of CitC, Zoe Miller knocked down the game’s first two shots to give the Lady Hawks a 4-0 lead. Gabby Anderson got Gahanna Lincoln on the board, but Morgan Yoder hit two free throws and then fed Krista Troyer for two and an 8-2 Hiland lead. Edyn Battle scored twice inside to trim the Hiland lead to 8-6, and Anderson’s steal and score eventually got the Lions to within 9-8. That was when Hiland went three-crazy, getting 3-pointers from Kelsey Swihart and two from Yoder to up its lead to 18-10 through the first quarter.

Yoder, who normally runs the show and engineers the offense, decided to take over once she got hot.

“One of us usually goes off,” Yoder said following her game-high 18-point effort. “It’s Brynn [Mullet] some nights, it’s Zoe some nights and it’s me some nights. Tonight was just my night I guess.”

Unfazed, Gahanna Lincoln scored six points, getting short-range scores from Naomi Johnson, Battle and Anderson around a Kendra Shetler free throw, and it was a 19-16 Hiland lead. Zoe Miller got loose inside and was fouled, producing two free throws to move out to a 21-16 edge.

Scoring then became extremely tough as officials let the two teams have at it, and two Yoder free throws and a step-back 3-pointer from Lions’ Kyla Smith left Hiland in the lead 23-19 through intermission.

Hiland had to wade through some intense pressure throughout the game, and Yoder said she felt they did an admirable job of handling the intense pressure.

“I feel like we handled it really well,” Yoder said. “I was glad we got to play Margaretta first because we weren’t expecting that kind of pressure from them, and that helped tonight because we really had to play physical and strong.”

Hiland came out of the locker room in a defensive stance and immediately showcased a defense that has let them dominate the third period this year.

Aila Miller scored on a put-back; Zoe Miller drove for two; and Aila Miller grabbed another offensive board, was fouled and hit a free throw to extend the Lady Hawks’ lead to 28-19. It wouldn’t be until the 2:30 mark in the third quarter that Gabby Anderson hit a tough runner in the lane for the Lions to break the spell. Morgan Yoder answered with a stunning drive to give the Lady Hawks a 30-21 edge.

“I didn’t think that there was a half-court possession tonight where I didn’t think we were engaged in taking stuff away,” Schlabach said of his team. “We gave up a couple of early long passes, but as far as half-court defense, I felt like we were on target all night long. For some reason that third quarter has been really big for us.”

Looking to regain momentum, Hiland did, and it was Swihart making one of the more spectacular plays of the weekend, perfectly timing a pass, picking it off and flying down the floor. She lost control, dove back and retrieved the ball, and in one fell swoop during her free-fall fired off a picture-perfect pass to Aila Miller in the paint, who laid it in. Anderson scored inside to end the period with Hiland ahead 32-23.

The Lady Hawks got the fourth period started with two Morgan Yoder free throws and a Shetler score inside from a smart pass from Shelby Miller sandwiched around a Bella Ward score that lifted Hiland’s lead to 36-25. When Yoder stroked home a triple and Zoe Miller scored on a put-back, the Lady Hawks appeared to be in cruise control, leading 41-25.

However, when Hiland tried to run some clock, the quickness and aggressiveness of the Lions took a toll, and the Lady Hawks began to cough it up, allowing Gahanna Lincoln to score some easy buckets. Battle and Johnson both scored four points amidst Aila Miller’s jumper in the lane, and suddenly the lead was down to 43-36.

However, Father Time was not an ally of the Lions, who ran out of time after a Yoder free throw, and the Lady Hawks had carved out a 44-36 victory to end CitC on a happy note for the hometown fans.

As for handling the pressure down the stretch, Schlabach said overall he felt his team did well against a team that is strong, quick and physical.

Having not faced that type of pressure in that situation all season, it was foreign territory for Hiland, who has blown out every opponent this year in victory.

“That’s something we’ll have to figure out,” Schlabach said. “We’re up 15, and if we hit free throws and take care of the ball, we win by 20. It gives us something to work on, but we haven’t been in that situation. We only had six turnovers at the half, and against that type of pressure, that is great.”

The two games left Schlabach more than pleased with the entire way the weekend played out.

“Our kids did a great job on the boards. The kids did their thing,” Schlabach said. “I thought Kendra and Aila played big off the bench, Kelsey made some big plays for us, and we are getting deeper. I thought everyone contributed, and I thought Aila had a coming-out party tonight. It was exactly what the doctor ordered for us.”

Joining Yoder in double figures was Zoe Miller, who posted a broken record double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Aila Miller added seven points and 10 rebounds while Shetler added seven boards as the Lady Hawks built a 45-33 lead on the glass. Anderson was brilliant for the Lions, scoring 14 points to go with six rebounds and four steals. Battle added 12 points, four boards and a pair of steals.

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