For the first eight minutes of Hiland’s senior night confrontation with East Canton Tuesday, Feb. 17 at the Reese Center, the Hawks looked about as dysfunctional as they have all season.
Then they unleashed the fireworks.
East Canton got a hailstorm of 3-pointers early to stay close, but the Hawks used an impeccable passing game in the middle two quarters to roll to a 71-50 victory. The victory drew them to within a win over struggling Ridgewood of capturing a share of their seventh Inter-Valley Conference title in the past eight seasons.
The teams traded treys early, with Eric Miller and Collin Blochlinger each connecting for the Hawks, but Mitch Mitchell and Bryce Moldovan each knocked one down for the Hornets to tie things at 8-8.
Michael Miller’s two free throws were negated at the end of the quarter by a Kody Kennedy drive, and Hiland held an 18-17 lead over a team they had beaten by 29 earlier in the season.
“Defensively we didn’t play well that first quarter,” said Hiland coach Mark Schlabach. “Wee gave up three 3-pointers in the first quarter and blew two defensive assignments. We gave up 13 points that were just bad decisions defensively.”
While the Hawks struggled mightily to get into any kind of flow in the first quarter, that changed rapidly in the second quarter.
Anthony Baad dropped in a trey to start the quarter to give East Canton its sole lead of the night at 20-18 before the Hawks went to work.
Brady Schlabach hit a jumper and Brennan Coil scored off a steal to give Hiland the lead back at 22-20. Bruce Troyer’s spinning drive made it 24-20, and after Baad missed a pair of free throws, Turner Horn hit a jumper for a 26-20 lead. Mitchell connected again from downtown to trim the lead to three, but after Moldovan missed a dunk, Horn scored on the other end, and momentum quickly went Hiland’s way.
Michael Miller was the recipient of a mesmerizing pass by Troyer, Coil scored inside and Collin Blochlinger hit a triple, and then with time running out, Eric Miller took a pass, and just before releasing glanced at the clock, realized he had time to make one extra pass and found Blochlinger all by himself in the corner. The senior delivered on cue as the buzzer to give the Hawks a 37-23 halftime edge.
Things were only going to get worse for the Hornets in the third quarter.
Chris Kline scored off a steal, Blochlinger hit another 3-pointer, and after Kennedy split a pair of free throws, Troyer dropped in a bomb and Eric Miller made a stunning pass to a cutting Coil for a score.
Just like that, Hiland was up 23.
Horn got in the passing frenzy, making a wrap-around assist to Coil, and after James McCullough hit a pair of free throws, Horn hit a jumper, Michael Miller nailed a trey and then followed up with a bucket inside. By the time Horn knocked down a 3-pointer to end the quarter, Hiland held a commanding 61-31 lead.
The fourth quarter was a free-for-all as benches emptied, and East Canton was able to trim the deficit to 21 at the final buzzer.
“We played a lot better on the defensive end,” said Schlabach of the middle quarters. “Other than not getting to the foul line, I felt like we played pretty well in those quarters.”
Schlabach enjoyed the balanced Hawks attack on offense, noting that his team didn’t take many bad shots.
“We drove the ball really well and didn’t overshoot the three,” said Schlabach. We had some kids make some really unselfish plays. We weren’t as sharp as we would like to be on a night like senior night, but sometimes that happens.”
The Hawks were paced by Horn’s 13 points, while Blochlinger added 11 on the strength of three 3-pointers. Michael Miller added nine, Coil scored eight, Eric Miller tacked on seven, Kyle Gerber added six, Troyer scored five and Kline and Schlabach both scored four and Justin Wagler and Bryan Yoder each had a pair in the balanced Hawks attack.
Kennedy led all scorers with 14 points, while Mitchell added nine, Baad scored seven and Moldovan added seven.