· Basketball - Holmes County ·

Lady Hawks fend off Lady Pirates 63-41 to earn a trip to regionals

Morgan McMillen's big start helps Hiland get by Garaway

It’s hard to beat a good team three times in the same year. The third time is the charm.

Garaway was hoping both of those statements would prove to be true when the Lady Pirates took on the Hiland Lady Hawks in the Div. III East District championship at Indian Valley High School in Gnadenhutten on Saturday, March 3.

Hiland had dealt Garaway a pair of losses, the first by 25, the second by 20, and the Lady Pirates were hoping to turn that around in a big way.

While Garaway fought the good fight, the third time proved to be no different than the first two as the defending Div. IV state champion Lady Hawks won 63-41 to lay claim to their 13th district title in the past 15 seasons.

Garaway threw out a monster challenge early on, but Hiland proved to be too deep and too talented across the board, and this game turned into a carbon copy of the previous two.

“I was very worried about this game,” Hiland head coach Dave Schlabach said, despite the two earlier 20-point victories. “They know us so well. We respect them, and they are very skilled. We needed this. It’s been awhile since we’ve been challenged.”

Garaway fought for all it was worth to keep the Hiland lead manageable, but when Hiland finally went up by double figures late in the first half, Garaway head coach Dave Shutt said it was a big moment.

“I think that was a big moment [psychologically],” coach Shutt said of falling behind by double figures, “especially when you feel like you have to play almost flawless basketball. When they do get it there, it forces 15-, 16-, 17-year-olds to press a little bit and take shots you normally don’t take.”

While Garaway played well for long stretches, Hiland was able to put together a couple of big runs that effectively fended off the Lady Pirates’ challenge.


McMillen finds the hot start button Hiland needed

Morgan McMillen wasn’t supposed to be playing in this game. After suffering a torn ACL during Hiland’s final summer game, she wasn’t supposed to play at all this season, let alone make an impact.

However, she did play, and her impact was monumental in the 22-point win. In fact the senior swing player scored 22 points, the exact margin of victory.

But none of her points were more important than the 12 she scored in the game’s first 8:33. With Garaway breathing down Hiland’s neck, McMillen showed poise and leadership in keeping the Lady Hawks right with Garaway until Hiland finally got things going late in the second period.

“Getting that lead early was big because we didn’t want them to hold the ball,” Hiland guard Kennedy Schlabach said.

“Originally I was told I wasn’t coming back this year, but I made up my mind that I was coming back, and this is the reason why,” McMillen said.


A Lady Hawks’ gigantic run

With Garaway having forced its way into the lead on two Haley Shutt free throws and a Kallie Regula 3-pointer, Hiland did what it does best and went on a tear, led by its defense.

Zoe Miller scored inside on a nice pass from Brynn Mullet, Kennedy Schlabach hit a triple, and Tiffany Weaver hit a free throw scored off an assist from Miller and then added another score inside to produce a 26-17 lead. Chelsi Rothacher scored when Haley Shutt found her open inside, but Kennedy Schlabach and Miller both hit two free throws for a 30-19 lead.

“They sped us up there,” coach Shutt said. “We had a great first quarter, but then you get down, and you start to press a bit.”


Shutt versus the world in the third

The third period proved to be the eight-minute stretch that moved the needle all the way into the Lady Hawks’ favor, although Haley Shutt did her part to try to keep the Pirates close.

Hiland played great defense for one full minute, and Kennedy Schlabach then hit a three. Hiland went down and played another great minute of defense, and Miller hit a free throw. One more stop and a McMillen drive gave Hiland a 36-19 lead.

Haley Shutt then went to work, scoring seven points with one on a trey as she kept Garaway at least within shouting distance, which would come into play in the fourth period.


Fourth quarter rush comes too late for Lady P’s

When Weaver canned two free throws to start the fourth period, it gave Hiland what seemed like a very safe 49-28 lead. However, control is a tricky thing when you play defense like Garaway does, and the Lady Pirates started pressing. Hiland felt it, big time.

The Lady Hawks started turning the ball over, and Garaway started converting. Regula hit a three-ball and scored inside. Haley Shutt split two free throws, and after Zoe Miller’s two free throws, Ashton Gerber dropped in a trey. Not long after, Zoe Johnson converted yet another turnover, and Garaway had trimmed the deficit to 54-41.

That was as close as they would get, however, as the press seemed to take every bit of energy out of Garaway, and Hiland finished the game on a 9-0 run that saw McMillen score five points including a dagger three.

“We haven’t been pressured all season, and we didn’t handle it very well,” coach Schlabach said. “It was good for us to see that pressure and see what it felt like.”

“We could have folded the tent, but we started pressing them and right away caused some back-to-back turnovers,” coach Shutt said. “We just couldn’t get that play or two to get over the hump, and that’s a credit to them.”


You can’t teach big

In the first two meetings, Hiland’s huge height advantage didn’t exactly come into play, especially in the second game when a much smaller Garaway team was able to shut down the Lady Hawks inside game by swarming the paint when the ball entered the low post.

However, in this game Hiland dominated in the paint, and that proved to be the decisive factor. Hiland held a huge 39-15 rebounding edge with Weaver hauling in 10 boards and Zoe Miller taking down seven. In addition Weaver and Miller scored 14 and 15 points, respectively, and McMillen, Hiland’s powerful guard who lives inside, added 22 points.

Coach Schlabach was finally able to take advantage of his team’s height advantage. “At the half we were 100 percent on any touches we got in the paint,” he said. “It’s nice to know that we don’t have to hit 15 threes to beat a good team. We feel like we can go rebound it or put it in the post. Our post game is getting a lot better.”


The importance of this game beyond moving on

Coach Schlabach was obviously thrilled that his team would get to play again. He and his staff and team know what a challenge they had survived, but he noted that this game held special meaning.

Throughout middle school this group of seniors had beaten Hiland’s seniors in all six games they played. However, at the varsity level Hiland went 9-0.

Coach Schlabach said he lost plenty of sleep worrying about this game, and for good reason.

“They have a lot of good seniors, and we knew they would fight back because they didn’t want this to be their last game either,” McMillen said.


Shutting down the driving force

Hiland freshman Morgan Yoder didn’t score a single point in the game, but her contribution was perhaps of critical importance.

All season long Garaway point guard Sydney Mullet has been a dynamic scorer, leading the Lady P’s in scoring in a large number of their 26 games. Mullet can draw blood from 3-point land or zip to the hole for two. She also is a tremendous ball-handler.

However, Yoder has certainly found her niche in becoming Hiland’s defensive stopper, and on this day Yoder’s incredible talents limited Mullet to just two points on 1-of-8 shooting.

“Sydney is a tremendous player,” coach Schlabach said. “But Morgan has become our defensive stopper. She didn’t have to be in Syd’s grill. She just had to take away what Syd does best. She watched about five hours of Garaway film last night, and she just wants to do that. She has invested the time, and it has been paying off.”


A special place in his heart

Yes, coach Shutt obviously has a very large emotional attachment to this senior group because his daughter Haley is among those who played their final game as a Lady Pirate. However, his connection to this group goes well above and beyond just his daughter.

“We’ve got four seniors who have put a lot of time into this,” coach Shutt said. “They are a special group near and dear to my heart, not only because I’ve known them since they were young, but because I know how much they care for each other. They can’t go do this again any more, and that is the toughest part.”

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