Classic in the Country

Lady Hawks take the giants to the limit before falling at CitC

Talk about your tall tasks.

Dave Schlabach, head coach of the Hiland Lady Hawks girls basketball team, likes to create a variety of challenges for his team at the annual Classic in the Country hoops showcase.

The task at hand in game six of this year’s CitC? Stop the Aurora Regis Jesuit Raiders from Colorado, a monstrously huge team that boasts 6-foot, 4-inch Noelle Cahill and a pair of 6-foot, 1-inch mountains in Francessca Belibi and Samantha Jones. That Belibi threw a dunk down in warm-ups proved how big she really is.

“We didn’t think we’d be able to get to the rim a lot,” coach Schlabach said, “so it was more about defending their bigs.”

That proved problematic since junior 6-foot, 2-inch post Tiffany Weaver has missed the last month with an ankle injury and has practiced just the past three days preparing for her return.

The Raiders got things off to a hot start when Belibi scored inside twice and Noelle Cahill added a bucket in the paint. Sara Keim finally got the Lady Hawks on the board with a 3-point bomb, but Regis Jesuit quickly answered with a pair to make it 10-3. Avery Van Sickle then lofted in a triple to push the lead to 10 at 13-3 with two minutes to play in the first quarter.

Kennedy Schlabach split two free throws, but Van Sickle popped in another long rainbow to make it 16-4 before Brynn Mullet ripped a trey to draw Hiland closer out the quarter’s scoring at 16-7.

Keim hit her second triple to get the Lady Hawks within 16-10, but the Warriors quickly pushed the lead back to 10 on a pair of scores from Cahill.

“Sara Keim continues to give us really good minutes,” Schlabach said of his senior. “She really helped keep us in it.”

Swihart hit two free throws, a Mullet put-back made it 20-14 and when Keim lopped in her third triple with 2:28 to play in the half, Hiland’s deficit was three at 20-17.

Belibi scored off a lob pass, but Schlabach’s three-ball got Hiland within 22-20 with one minute to play. Belibi scored with four ticks left on the clock, giving the Raiders a 24-20 half-time lead. While Hiland trailed, the Lady Hawks had gained some huge momentum, knowing they could hang with the giants from Colorado.

Kennedy Schlabach, Hiland’s top scoring threat, has relied heavily on penetrating the paint and getting to the charity stripe this season, where she has been deadly. The tall trees inside altered that approach some, but she was able to catch fire from downtown in the second half.

“It changed things a little bit,” Kennedy Schlabach said. “They had good pressure out front too, but yeah, you always want to attack, but with all of those six-footers in there, it’s a little hard.”

Regis Jesuit scored four quick points out of the gate to begin the second half, but Tiff Weaver scored inside before freshman Kelsey Swihart made an incredible spinning move to get the Lady Hawks to within 28-24. Schlabach then hit two threes to make it 32-30, and the Reese Center was rocking. However, Cahill knocked down an and-one to push the lead back to five and stem momentum.

Cahill then struck again to begin the fourth period, and the Raiders lead was seven, but Schlabach chucked in another triple, her fourth, to make it 37-33. Jada Moore answered with a 3-pointer of her own.

Zoe Miller’s three points kept the Lady Hawks close at 42-38 with 3:30 to play, but Hiland had multiple opportunities to carve into the lead but couldn’t get it done. With 1:04 to play, Moore strode to the line and missed the front of a one-and-one, and the Lady Hawks had life.

Freshman Morgan Yoder, who had been scoreless, drove the right baseline aggressively and scored with 55 seconds to play to trim the deficit to 42-40. Forced to foul, Hiland sent Van Sickle to the line, where she calmly drained both. With 45 seconds left, Hiland threw away a chance to get closer, and Belibi made it 45-40 with 32 ticks left. Hiland again came up empty, and Van Sickle salted the game away with a free throw with 15 seconds to play.

Regardless of the loss, Schlabach said the outcome wasn’t as important as seeing how his team responded to both the height and the ability of a talented team like Regis Jesuit. He left the gym duly impressed with his kids.

“I don’t know if they thought I was going to go into the locker room and yell at them or not, but I am really happy with the way things went,” Schlabach said. “It’s a great next step for us in our progression. I looked out there in the fourth quarter, and we have three freshmen on the floor. There was not one thing I can complain about. We got looks, and I thought we defended well. That’s why we schedule these games.”

Belibi led the Raiders with 11 points and 10 rebounds while Van Sickle added 13 points and Cahill scored a game-high 15. However, despite the huge height advantage, Regis Jesuit won the rebounding battle by just one at 30-29.

Schlabach paced the Lady Hawks with 13 points and five rebounds while Keim added nine points and three assists. Zoe Miller and Mullet both added five points. Weaver led the Lady Hawks in rebounding with six caroms, and both teams handled the ball well, each committing just nine turnovers.

As for having his freshmen four handle the pressure of the huge spotlight that is CitC, Schlabach was again quite tickled with the effort they gave.

“Morgan (Yoder) played great on-ball defense on their point guard (Jada Moore), a very talented kid,” Schlabach said. “I didn’t see us playing scared, and that is all I care about.”

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