Hiland Boys Basketball

Relentless Hawks are just too much for Panthers to handle in regional tilt

Turner Horn helps Andy Miller off the floor following a nasty spill and the Hawks help themselves to a regional win

Watching a team apply its trade on tape is one thing. Experiencing it live and in person is another story altogether.

For the Southeastern Panthers, the sheer terror of facing the gauntlet that is the Hiland Hawks defense took on whole new meaning when the two teams squared off in the Div. III district semifinal game at the Convocation Center at Ohio University in Athens Wednesday, March 15.

Hiland’s relentless defense forced the Panthers into 23 turnovers and countless quickly forced shots that led to a poor 13-of-35 shooting night for Southeastern in Hiland’s runaway 60-34 victory.

“That is definitely the best defense we have seen all season,” said Southeastern head coach Andy Slaughter. “They are a very, very, very good defensive team. We knew that coming in. We focused on that defense, the physicality and the pressure. We just weren’t able to handle it as well as we wanted to. They get up and get after you, and don’t let you do the things you want to do offensively.”

Rex Hartman gave Southeastern something to cheer about early on, nailing a trey to give the Panthers their only lead at 3-0. Meanwhile, the Hawks struggled to find anything on offense, and didn’t score until Andy Miller canned a short jumper at the 5:25 mark. That took the lid off the bucket and Hiland reeled off a stunning 18-2 run over the rest of the first quarter and first two minutes of the second quarter that pretty much put the game away.

“We’ve had this happen before this year, where our guys have played so hard defensively that we haven’t made the adjustment at the offensive end,” said Hiland coach Mark Schlabach, who is trying to gain entry to the state tournament for the fifth time, twice with the hawks and two times as Loudonville’s skipper. “We were so fired up and ready to go defensively that we were playing too fast and didn’t have the mental focus offensively until later in the game.”

One the Hawks did regain their tempo on offense it was smooth sailing, and Hiland generated plenty of great looks that came courtesy of their defense.

Senior Turner Horn scored the final six points of the first quarter and Chris Kline scored the first four points of the second during that run, and Hiland took a 24-12 lead into the locker room.

Still feeling it had a fighting chance down 12 points, the Panthers were about to feel the wrath of the Hawks’ trademark defense.

Scott Troyer went coast-to-coast and drove again to give the Hawks a 33-14 lead and Damien Kandel took a gorgeous pas from Miller and scored again momenta later to give the hawks a 39-23 edge after three. After a Lane Ruby scored trimmed the Hiland lead to 39-25, Hiland went nuts gain, using its defense to set the table for a host of easy lay-ins, and the biggest factor was senior Noah Sommers, who simply took over the game on both ends of the court.

Sommers scored six quick points to begin the fourth quarter, and hauled in every rebound that clanked off the iron.

The fun really got cranked up to another level when Kline started wreaking havoc. He made a steal, then found Horn for a lay-in. Kline then made another steal and went to the rack for two, and moments later sent the crowd into a frenzy with a tenacious play. He drove the paint, was drilled but no foul was called. He then made a beeline for whatever Panther was unfortunate to have the ball. He ripped it away in the blink of an eye, drove three-quarters court and made a dazzling no-look pas to Horn for a lay-up. After another Hiland stop, Kline knocked down two free throws and suddenly the score was 55-27, and the Hawks were easily into the Elite Eight, where they will now face a 24-1 Fairland team that is talented, tall, quick and athletic.

“He’s a human wrecking ball,” Schlabach said of Kline’s ability to create such a rabid tempo on both ends of the court. “At the defensive end, if we can find the right guy for him to guard, he can cause so much chaos.”

For the Panthers,. Their Cinderella run in the tournament came to an end at regionals. Southeastern entered the tournament 5-17, but took full advantage of the second season to reclaim their year by starting over. The Panthers knocked off highly touted Oak Hill to win their fourth game of the tournament season, but could not overcome Hiland’s impressive display of defense.

Schlabach said they were leery and prepared to not let any records stand in the way of focusing, competing and putting this game to rest in the win column.

“We have seen them come from behind so many times,” Schlabach said. “They are used to playing behind, and they are used to making big runs, and we learned our lesson in our Garaway game when we had a six-point lead late. We had a chance to extend that lead (and didn’t, resulting in a last-second loss) and put that game out of touch. We talked about extending leads late. Good teams are going to find a way to get back in the game.”

Hiland heeded that advice and never allowed Southeastern to gain any ground as the Hawks pulled away to victory.

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