Classic in the Country

Lady Hawks fall to Newark 37-33 to top off a wonderful weekend of CitC hoops

Hiland and Newark battle to the wire in CitC2018 finale

Game 20 of Classic in the Country is always a fun and spirited contest every year, despite many of the folks at the Perry Reese, Jr. Community Center being plum tuckered out after three days of inspiring and relentless play.

A big part of what keeps the game exciting is that one side is always the host Hiland Lady Hawks, who are always good and a challenge to play against because of Dave Schlabach’s aggressive style of play. Another reason is because the Lady Hawks always have a large contingent of followers at the game, many of those being the rowdy student section that always brings special flair to the game. The final reason is because Dave Schlabach makes sure his team always gets a big-time opponent.

The Monday, Jan. 15 nightcap to CitC was check, check, check and check on all counts as Hiland played host to Newark, one of the top teams in the state of Ohio.

“We want to create as many good challenges as we can with a variety of different styles that will make us work, and Newark is as good as it gets,” coach Schlabach said. “They are the kind of fundamental team that if they get out in front, they will spread out the floor and make teams come after them. They are extremely hard to defend.”

Early on Newark sandwiched a pair of buckets around a Tiffany Weaver put-back, but Weaver scored again inside as the Lady Hawks tried to establish the inside game with their 6-foot, 2-inch post player.

“Classic in the Country is a big stage, and my goal was to be back for this,” Weaver said, “because I am a competitor, so it was good to be back, be with my teammates and help us out. It felt good to play against really good girls, just being able to prove myself even though I am not at 100 percent.”

Newark took an 8-6 advantage in a slow-scoring opening quarter, but Zoe Miller’s two free throws locked it up at eight apiece to end the frame.

Katie Shumate led off the second period with a jumper, but Hiland freshman Brynn Mullet wasn’t impressed, answering with a 3-pointer to give Hiland its first lead at 11-10. That lead lasted 30 seconds as Katie Shumate scored her seventh and eighth points on another jumper.

The game then turned into a defensive battle in which points were tough to come by, a rarity for both teams, but especially for Newark.

“We came in here used to scoring 60 or 70 points a night, and we scored 40, then in the 30s tonight,” Newark head coach J.R. Shumate said. “Hiland may not have the length or quickness of some teams, but they are a disciplined defense, and they play hard and are always in great position. That may have been why we shot so poorly.”

Kennedy Schlabach answered with one of her own for a 13-12 Hiland lead, and it was as if everyone knew it was going to be game on.

Zoe Miller’s jumper pushed the lead out to 15-12, but Taylor Scott and Katie Shumate’s reply put the Wildcats back on top by one with 3:00 to play in the half.

Morgan Yoder canned a baseline jumper to put the Lady Hawks up 17-16, but Katie Shumate hit a trey to give the Wildcats a 19-17 edge with under a minute to play, and that was how the two teams went into the half.

The two teams came out of the locker room as cold as the winter winds outside the Reese Center to begin the second half, and it wasn’t until nearly three minutes in that Newark’s Morgan Sharps finally broke through with a jumper to make it 21-17. That sparked the game back to life but not as much as when Kennedy Schlabach fired in a three-ball to trim the Hiland deficit to 21-20. Moments later after Newark had scored, the crowd roared its approval when Sara Keim drained a triple to knot the score at 24.

The two teams arrived at the start of the fourth quarter the same place they were in at the beginning: locked up in a tie game at 25-all as the defenses continued to dominate play.

Two minutes into the period, Keim camped out in her favorite spot in the corner and drove home another trey to give Hiland its biggest lead of the game at 28-25, but Katie Shumate scored five straight to spark Newark to a two-point lead that was erased by Morgan Yoder. After getting a stop, Kennedy Schlabach drove in to give the Lady Hawks a 32-30 lead, but again Katie Shumate responded with a huge trey to put Newark back on top 33-32 with 3:52 to play.

Katie Shumate continued her onslaught, scoring inside. Then she scored on a put-back with 2:25 to play to put Newark up 37-32. Newark couldn’t inbound the ball near mid-court with 37 seconds to play, and Weaver’s steal led to Brynn Mullet’s two free throws with 25 seconds left. Mullet split the pair to trim the deficit to 37-33, and Hiland found Katie Shumate missed the front end of a one-and-one, leaving the Lady Hawks 12 seconds to figure out how to score four points, but Hiland failed to get a shot off, and the Wildcats hung on for a nice victory.

“I’m very proud of this team. I like the way we won this game. It wasn’t pretty, but to be able to do it with the hard hat on makes me proud,” coach Shumate said. “Hiland is extremely well-coached, and it is intimidating coming into this environment when you’ve got more students than you’ve ever seen at a high school game. It is a district/regional-type atmosphere, so we are extremely humbled that we get to come in here and play in this type of an environment and be a part of this tradition.”

Katie Shumate ended the night with an impressive 25-point effort that included three treys, and Newark got six and four points, respectively, from Scott and Sharps. Hiland didn’t have any individual in double figures, but spread the scoring around, getting seven points and five rebounds from Kennedy Schlabach, six points and five boards by Keim, and four points apiece from Weaver, Yoder, Mullet, Swihart and Miller. Weaver’s six rebounds helped Hiland to a 37-28 rebounding advantage.

“For us to outrebound that team by nine,” coach Schlabach said, “the effort was great. The freshman played tough and handled the pressure. Our end-game execution wasn’t good, and we have to clean some of that up, but I am pleased with our effort this weekend. We hate the sting of losing, for our kids. We played hard enough to win, and it would have been excellent to walk out of here with wins, but in the long run the experience of the weekend was exactly what we wanted.”

Coach Schlabach said perhaps the most impressive part of the weekend was seeing freshman Morgan Yoder become the team’s defensive stopper on the perimeter.

“Morgan has shut down two of the best players in the country the past two nights,” coach Schlabach said. “Sharps gets four tonight, and the point guard from Regis, who is one of the best in the country, gets three. We are finding our defensive stopper.”

Though his team lost a pair of games, coach Schlabach couldn’t help but smile when it was all over, and his team had proven to themselves, the coaching staff and their fans that they can play with pretty much any team in the state.

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