Some regular season games are just that, regular.
However, there was nothing regular about the battle that was waged between league-leading Hiland and Strasburg in trip two through the Inter-Valley Conference, and the game held all kinds of ramifications, while at the same time serving as a way for both teams to prepare for the tournament trail.
In the overtime thriller between visiting Hiland (16-3) and host Strasburg (18-2) Tuesday, February 7, there were plenty of heroes, shining moments and gut-wrenching plays during the Tigers’ 47-45 OT victory.
The Strasburg win held consequences in many ways, but from the standpoint of the Inter-Valley Conference, it brought not only the Tigers on to an even keel with Hiland in the loss column, it also ushered Garaway back into the picture. That was because Garaway avenged an early-season loss to the Saints, going down to New Philadelphia and eking out a 40-36 win in another IVC nail-biter.
With the win, Strasburg moved to 12-2, while Hiland stands at 11-2. The Tigers are left with a talented Sandy Valley team and an athletic East Canton squad, while Hiland has a date with the TCC Saints before what should be a thrill-ride against Garaway in Sugarcreek, before a season-ending make-up game with Newcomerstown.
The Pirates, who have three league losses, end with Hiland and a dangerous Ridgewood team.
The possibility of three losses sharing the league title goes a long way in telling just how rugged the IVC is this year.
“We knew this would be a battle tonight,” said Hiland coach Mark Schlabach. We have to just put this in our rear view mirror, and we have done that very well this year. We have played good basketball after our previous two losses. Losses late in the regular season always hurt a little bit more, but we are fortunate, because we have Friday night to go play. In a couple of weeks there are no more Friday nights to recover from a loss. Then it’s one-and-done.”
As for the Tigers, head coach Adam Hall sat with his players in a jubilant locker room, and while they enjoyed a monumental victory, he warned them that they still have work to do.
Turning off the emotions of this victory is something the Tigers will have to work to avoid.
“Some people might call the Sandy Valley game a trap game, coming off a win like this, but I think that is just a superstition,” Hall said. “I trust our kids. They will respond, and they know what needs to be done. We respect the heck out of Sandy Valley. We know that they are a solid, solid basketball team, and this win tonight doesn’t matter if we don’t win Friday night.”
The IVC meat grinder
With the Hawks and Tigers now perched atop the IVC and with Garaway pecking at their heels, and with talented teams like Malvern, Sandy Valley, TCC and others that on any given night can pull an upset, going through league has prepared these teams for the rigors of tournament play.
The Pirates were recently upset by a three-win Newcomerstown team, while the Hawks were taken into overtime by Ridgewood before pulling out a big win.
“It’s just going to make us better in the long run when our league is this balanced and good,” Hall said.
“The IVC is a meat grinder, and I think it has really made us a better team this year,” Schlabach said. “We know we have to be ready to play every single game. I’m glad only half of them are in our district.”
Div. III vs. Div. IV
These two teams formerly squared off in tournament play, but with Hiland’s move up to Div. III, they will no longer meet in the Div. IV sectional-district tournament. That is just fine with all involved.
“They can stay right there,” Hall said with a laugh. “Oh, gosh, I don’t think either of us want to face each other again,” said Strasburg’s Nick Walczak. “Best of luck to them in Div. III. It’s just as well they aren’t in Div. IV anymore.”
“I’m not at all disappointed we won’t have to face them in the tournament,” Schlabach said.