Most coaches will tell you that it is utterly important for their seniors to step up when tournament time rolls around.
For the Hiland Hawks, all three seniors contributed mightily in getting the Hawks past a scrappy Tusky Valley group in their March 10 showdown in the Div. III district championship game at Dover High School.
Seniors Chris Kline and Turner Horn both poured in a game-high 21 points, and classmate Noah Sommers hauled in a game-high eight rebounds to lead the Hawks to a 60-45 victory that saw them finally punch though the elusive district championship game that has bogged them down for the past four seasons.
“There is no doubt that this was an important thing for our kids,” said Hiland coach Mark Schlabach of gaining a district title. “I think it was especially important to our three seniors, because they have played in three of those district losses themselves. And all three of our seniors really played a big role in winning this game, All three played great. I think Chris played maybe his best game of the year. He was everywhere.”
After winning the Div. IV state championship in back-to-back years in 2011 and 2012, the Hawks have fallen in four straight district title games, to River, Malvern, Tuscarawas Central Catholic and Garaway. Schlabach said it was vitally important to get back on track.
Hiland has appeared in seven straight district finals, and after winning the first two during that stretch, he said it is easy to take for granted that it will continue to happen.
“We talked a lot about that during the season,” Schlabach said. “Before you can think bout getting to Columbus you have to win a district championship first, so we really focused on that a lot this year,” Schlabach said. “We decided that was our focus, and we figured if we get there, then we can take one step at a time from there.”
Andy miller forces a jump ball. This is the type of defense Hiland has been playing this 1st Q pic.twitter.com/dXxzk8bse1
— OhioSportsTicket.com (@OhioTicket) March 11, 2017
The biggest step to winning a district title this year came courtesy of Hiland’s trademark defense, where Andy Miller, Scott Troyer and Kline have done some incredible things this year in shutting down opposing team’s guards.
During a first-half run of impressive play, Hiland set the tone for the game by exquisitely shutting down the Trojans, limiting them to just 15 first-half points.
Hiland jumped on top 8-4, and extended that lead to 12-5 before the Trojans fought back to trim the deficit to 14-11 through one period. The Hawks then went on a big run, getting scores from Kline and Horn, and a 3-pointer from Horn several trips later to extend the lead to 25-11, before Tusky Valley scored four points and neither team scored over the final two minutes of the half.
Leading 25-15 at the turn, the Hawks’ defense continued to dominate, and the lead grew to 34-18 on a pair of Kline free throws. However, the Trojans came pounding back again and a late score in the third period looked like it would leave the Trojans trailing 38-27 heading to the fourth. However, Horn unloaded a desperation 30-footer than nestled into the net, giving Hiland a 41-27 lead.
What a way to end the 3Q. Tusky Valley with the basket with 7 seconds to go. Horn counter with a 30-footer at the buzzer. 41-27 Hiland pic.twitter.com/hHMUnaxeA2
— OhioSportsTicket.com (@OhioTicket) March 11, 2017
Hiland eventually built a 50-32 lead, but Tusky Valley jumped into a trapping press that stymied Hiland, and the Trojans crept to within nine points before Kline and Horn struck again to keep Tusky Valley at bay.
While his three-headed guard attack defended well, Schlabach praised Horn for his defensive effort in shutting down Trojans’ high-scoring threat Brenton Franks. Horn is Hiland’s leading scorer, but he is also a relentless defender, and is often called upon to become a shut-down defender. “If he is not in foul trouble, he has been our shut-down guy on a big guard the past two years,” Schlabach said. “People don’t realize how good of a defender Turner is.”
Hiland advanced to 21-4 on the season, while Tusky Valley bowed out at a deceiving 12-15 mark. The Trojans dumped top-seeded Martins’ Ferry and then number five seed Coshocton before falling to Hiland.
“They are a good program and we have a ton of respect for them,” Schlabach said of Steve Franks crew.
Dylan Vaughan paced the Trojans with 15 points. The Hawks advanced to the regional semifinal, where they will play Chillicothe Southeastern, a team that was 5-17 during the regular season but has found a new grasp on life in the second season. A number nine seed in the Athens 2 district, Southeastern has toppled Zane Trace by two, then knocked off top-seeded Lynchburg Claye 65-62. It defeated number five seed Minford 55-52 before besting heavily favored and number two-seeded Oak Hill 35-31 in the district final.
Schlabach said that this team is not the one that played throughout the regular season.
“We are playing with a lot of confidence right now, but this Southeastern team is dangerous,” Schlabach said. “We’ve seen them a bunch. Lynchburg Claye and Oak Hill are both very talented teams, and they have now beaten three really good teams in a row.”