Hiland Girls Basketball

Lady Hawks fight for their lives before Schlabach delivers a dream ending in 44-41 win over Ottoville

Morgan McMillen's dribble drive and pass helped Hiland find the 30th game of the year they have been seeking

Facing elimination in what has been an absolute dream season, the Lady Hawks decided to fight for their lives rather than wilt away.

In Div. IV state semifinal game Thursday, March 16 at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus, the Lady Hawks dug deep, rallied from a 10-point deficit against an Ottoville team that was perhaps the toughest competition they had faced all season, and rallied for a most improbable victory when Kennedy Schlabach lit up the scoreboard from downtown with a buzzer-beating three-ball that sent Hiland into the finals to face Waterford with a 44-41 victory that had the Schott abuzz with excitement.

“Our theme for this tournament run has been, we are going to fight for our season,” said Hiland coach Dave Schlabach. “We knew there was going to have to be some times when we had to fight. That game could have ended up 20 (points). I think most teams in our position would have folded against a team like that. Our kids have fought for this moment for so long, they just weren’t willing to give it up.”

While the Lady Hawks were able to stay close in the beginning, it was anything but a clean start, as Hiland turned the ball over rapid-fire, and saw a 5-5 tie turn into a 10-5 Ottoville lead. Only Angela Troyer’s jumper to end the first quarter saved it from being deemed a disaster.

Morgan McMillen got Hiland within one to start the second quarter, but the Lady Green began using their height inside, and focused on turning away Hiland’s attempts to get to the bucket at just about every turn.

The interior defense was keeping the high-flying Lady Hawks’ offense in check, and eventually Hiland trialed 21-14.

However, after McMillen took a key charge, negating a Lady Green bucket, Schlabach knocked down a pair of free throws, as did Troyer, trimming the deficit to 21-18.

Neither team found the hoop over the final minute of the half and Ottoville had a 21-18 lead.

The third quarter saw the Lady Green continue to stymie Hiland’s offense, and a three by Alicia Honigford and a score inside by CJ Kemper, and all of a sudden Hiland was clinging to life support at 32-22 with 2:00 to play in the third quarter.

However, with 1:35 to play, McMillen hit what had to be the biggest shot of her career, a rainbow triple, to give Hiland a new lease on life.

Troyer scored again with one minute to play, and again both defenses stood stout over the final minute, and the Lady Hawks were just eight minutes away from seeing a dream season draw to an unsatisfying conclusion.

That was not to be the case, as Hiland’s players seemed to will their way back into it.

Schlabach drove for a score to open the fourth period after a Lady Green turnover. Hiland had upped its defensive pressure, and again Ottoville coughed it up, allowing Schlabach to launch a 3-pointer to get the Lady Hawks to get even at 32. Hiland had a new lease on life, but the game was still up for grabs.

Bridget Landin scored inside, and after the two teams traded misses, Troyer calmly knocked down a jumper to tie it again.

Amber Miller put Ottoville back up, but again Troyer would come through with an and-one, and Hiland finally had crawled back on top at 37-36 with 3:38 to play. The Lady Hawks forced a turnover, and Troyer drove, was fouled and hit both charity tosses for a 39-36 Hiland edge.

Ottoville was reeling, a couple of turnovers later, with 1:04 to play, both Schlabach and Tiffany Weaver had chances to extend the Hiland lead with one-and-ones. Both missed the front-end, and the Lady Green got a free throw from Landin to draw to within 39-37.

Again Schlabach was fouled, and the usually automatic shooter misfired again. With 44 seconds to play, Landin went to the free throw line and connected twice, and it was locked up at 44.

Hiland could have held the ball for a final shot, but Coach Schlabach had options.

“I told the girls if they back off, we would take the last shot,” coach Schlabach said. “If they came play, we would attack the basket.”

That is a bold strategy, but it helps to have Div. IV’s Player of the Year on your side.

“Coach told me to go rack it, so I knew I was supposed to score,” Troyer said.

Angie doesn’t lack in confidence,” said coach Schlabach with a laugh. “You tell her to rack it, she is going to do something with it.”

When Ottoville went for a steal with 35 seconds left, Troyer dodged the attack, took two dribbled and pulled up for a 15-footer that hit nothing but net.

Down two, Ottoville needed its big-time player to step up, and Landin is that person. She did not fail to do so.

After Hiland nearly got two steals, Landin got the rock inside and was fouled with 7.8 seconds to play. She calmly laced both free throws to tie the score.

Again, Coach Schlabach showed his incredible coaching skills by drawing up a play beforehand. He was not going to call time-out and let Ottoville get setup on defense.

“We set it up in the time-out not to give them a chance to get set up on defense and to get them into scrambling mode off the made free throw, and we trusted Morgan to get the basketball and make something happen. She bet a kid or two and did what she does best. She found her buddy, and Kennedy knocked it down. You can draw it up but you still have to make shots, and Kennedy showed a lot of guts.”

Hiland inbounded to Weaver who quickly tossed it back to McMillen. McMillen drove up the center of the court and looked poise to heave a 25-footer as time wound down. Instead, she knew exactly where Schlabach would be waiting.

“I looked up, I had five seconds left and my immediate thought was ‘find my shooter,’” McMillen said. “”I found her in the corner.”

As senior post Melissa Hostetler set a picture-perfect screen to free up Schlabach in the corner, McMillen whipped her the ball. Schlabach was unaware as to exactly how much time there was. She only knew she had to get off the shot in a hurry.

“I knew there wasn’t a lot of time left,” Kennedy Schlabach said. “I honestly thought Morgan was going to shoot the ball. Once it got to me I just let it fly. I had no other choice. It was unbelievable. Every kid dreams of hitting that shot.”

Every day at practice Schlabach works on getting her shot off quicker and quicker. Never before has there been a more important time for her to unleash a quick-draw three than on this night.

The shot barely even rippled the net, and the triple was very much like the one Seger Bonifant had made in the regional final five years ago to the day that sent Hiland to state.

“I’ve been working on that shot forever,” Kennedy Schlabach said. “You always have it in the back of your mind, wanting to make that play, but I never imagined it would be in a spot like this.” She then added, “I honestly thought it was going to be long.”

“For our kids to go through the disappointment of last year, our kids have truly committed for a year, a year, to getting here and getting ourselves a shot,” said coach Schlabach. “We faced a lot of adversity to get down 10, unable to get anything going. We were in foul trouble and weren’t knocking down shots. But we had a lot of special moments in that game in the middle just to keep us in it. I knew we were going to have to fight tonight. I honestly feel if we played Ottoville 10 times, we’d win five of them. They are a very good team.

“I think Ottoville is the best team we have faced this year,” coach Schlabach said. “They are so deep, and defend so well, and they create such a tough match-up.”

For Hiland, only the big three produced any points. Troyer ended the night with 18, Schlabach scored 15 and McMillen added 11. Landin paced Ottoville with 15 points and 10 rebounds, and the big, athletic Lady Green won the battle of the boards 27-19 in a statistical battle Hiland is not used to losing.

But what proved to be the key to the contest was the fourth quarter, the only quarter Hiland won all night. Over that final eight-minute span, Hiland outscored Ottoville 17-9. In addition, after each team turned the ball over 11 times in the first half, Hiland lost in only twice in the second half, while creating 11 more turnovers for Ottoville.

“Defensively, we held them 40 points under their average, which is an unbelievable job,” said Ottoville coach Dave Kleman. “But offensively, we just didn’t get the job done.”

The victory allows Hiland to be one of the final two teams standing in Div. IV, and they take on a Waterford team that also won on a buzzer-beater and also had just three players score.

“I felt like all along we knew we weren’t going to lose,” Troyer said. “We were too determined, and we were not going to let this be our last game.”

Instead, the Lady Hawks fought for their basketball lives, and when the final blow had been delivered, and the last Lady Hawks had launched herself onto the celebration pile near mid-court, and the last hug of what seemed like a million hugs had been given, Hiland had fought its way to the title game, giving itself a chance to complete the dream that had been drawn up more than one year ago after a stunning regional loss that left the Lady Hawks working harder than ever to prove themselves.

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