Hiland Girls Basketball

Lady Hawks are back to state with dominant performance in 63-20 win over Jackson-Milton

The Lady Hawks celebrate as they realize the dream of reaching state

Talk about taking all of the joy and anticipation of a thrilling regional final game and kicking it right out the window.

The Hiland Lady Hawks took a game that is supposed to be wrought with the excitement of having the right to advance to the state tournament and turned it into their own personal how-to showcase in demolishing Jackson-Milton 63-20 in the Div. IV Massillon regional final Saturday, March 11 at Perry High School.

After allowing a 3-pointer from the Blue Jays to start the game, Hiland went into a suffocating full-court pressing trap that caused Jackson-Milton into playing way faster than they could manage. With that defense leading the way, Hiland went on a 21-3 run to end the first quarter and never looked back.

In doing so, the Lady Hawks erased the sour taste of last season’s disappointing regional final loss where they couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean.

“Last year was really rough, but we got through it and we worked hard and that really motivated us,” said Hiland senior Melissa Hostetler. “This feels so great, but we know there is still a lot of work to be done.”

“We have worked so hard together for so long, that we all wanted to achieve this goal together for each other,” said senior Isabelle Fowler.

Last year’s last-second regional loss hurt, and that feeling has not left this team’s psyche. It has motivated them, and driven them to want to get back to the regional game so they could erase that feeling once and for all.

“It has motivated us all summer long to work a whole lot harder,” said senior Angela Troyer. “It has been in the back of our minds for a while. It was a great feeling to come off the floor in the fourth quarter and realizing we were going to state.”

Hiland began forcing the ball down low to the block immediately, taking advantage of its size, and Morgan McMillen and Tiffany Weaver both produced.

“We told the kids in the locker room that we expect to put the ball on the block, and have a steady diet of pushing it inside to set the tone,” coach Schlabach said. “We wanted to play the game inside out, and our kids did that, and it freed everything up on the outside.”

Hiland then showcased its outside scoring capability with both McMillen and Kennedy Schlabach nailing 3-pointers, and Schlabach stroked another one later as part of the first quarter rampage.

The lead quickly grew to 28 mid-way through the second period, and by the half Hiland’s bulge had grown to 36-9, and the outcome of the game was simply removed from the equation.

With the Blue Jays tiring quickly, Hiland really went to work in the third period. Leading 41-12, Schlabach and Sara Keim hammered home threes, and after a Blue Jays score, Angela Troyer and Keim hit two more triples to make it 52-14 through three quarters.

Jessica Troyer scored on a lay-up to begin the fourth, and after a Jackson-Milton score, Angela Troyer went to work. She hit two free throws, hit a lay-up off a steal and then laid in an acrobatic lay-up after getting knocked to the floor to show off her athleticism.

After Melissa Hostetler hit a free throw, Hiland had reached its end-score of 63, and Schlabach removed his starting crew and let the youngsters finish up.

“I think we are getting more balanced all the time,” coach Schlabach said of his team. “We passed the ball really well tonight, and we were totally unselfish.”

“We came out in our regional semifinal game and had some jitters, and we were a little nervous before we got going,” Angela Troyer said. “Tonight, we were relaxed and confident and ready to go from the start.”

Hiland’s incredible balance and its defense was the key to victory in coach Schlabach’s 13th regional championship title win.

McMillen and Schlabach both scored 14 points, Angela Troyer added 13, Tiffany Weaver scored eight, Keim added six and Hostetler scored four.

The defense harassed the Blue Jays into 32 total turnovers, 21 of those in the first half, as Jackson-Milton struggled to contend with Hiland’s swarming defensive pressure.

Angela Troyer collected six steals and McMillen snared four of Hiland’s 21 steals, but more than the steals was the persistent defensive pressure Hiland put forth, an effort that rattled the Blue Jays and caused them to panic at times.

Leading the way was Hiland’s guards, with Schlabach, Angela Troyer and especially senior Jessica Troyer, whose one main goal is to be a thorn in the sides of any ball handler who she has the task of defending.

“I don’t care if I never score,” Jessica Troyer said. “I love playing defense, and it is the one thing I know I can offer my teammates that will help us win games. I love it when I can shut down another team’s best guard and frustrate people. That is the one thing that drives me.”

Coach Schlabach said that at the shoot-around earlier in the day, he got a sense that his team was relaxed and ready to rumble, noting that they looked focused and intense but still very relaxed.

The definitely looked relaxed as they picked apart Jackson-Milton with pinpoint accuracy in every aspect of the game, and it leads to an opportunity for Hiland to extend it’s OHSAA girls state record number of state appearances to 15. It also give coach Schlabach a chance to seek out his fifth state title, but for now, the joy of simply reaching the state tournament again is worth celebrating, despite Hiland having bigger goals in mind.

“I couldn’t hardly breath on the bench when I came out in the fourth quarter, I was so excited,” Jessica Troyer said. “The feeling is unbelievable because we all know how hard we have worked to make this happen and put aside last year’s loss.”

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