· Basketball - Holmes County ·

Youth on display as Lady Hawks beat Lady Knights 56-23

Lady Hawks capture the Battle of Holmes County

As far as recent games between two of Ohio’s top girls basketball programs go, the Hiland versus West Holmes game in The Dungeon at West Holmes High School on Saturday, Dec. 23 wasn’t one of the more memorable affairs. The Lady Hawks got a huge defensive effort and top-notch game from senior Sara Keim, who led Hiland to a 56-23 victory in this cross-county rivalry game.

However, what this game did for both teams was to continue the introduction of fast-paced, pressure-packed basketball to a lot of youthful players who have been thrust into key roles on both sides of the floor.

Both teams boast rosters that showcase five freshmen who are getting ample playing time, and both head coaches said learning to play under this kind of pressure is part of the learning process and growing pains that come with playing varsity basketball for young players.

For Hiland, head coach Dave Schlabach has had to figure out ways to create offense, first without senior All-Ohioan Morgan McMillen, who has missed the season to date with a knee injury, and now without star center Tiffany Weaver, who is down with an ankle sprain.

“It’s a process for us to discover how to score points,” coach Schlabach said of his team. “We are struggling to find our rhythm, and at times it was ugly tonight, but defensively we played pretty well. It is going to take time, and we are going to have to tackle one goal at a time until we get there.”

The Lady Knights are in a similar boat. After losing a load of talent to graduation, they have watched two key senior members go down within days of each other in Jess Marmet and Alexis Hunter. In addition promising freshman Katy Sprang has a back injury, so head coach Lindsy Snyder has had to dig deep, bringing up freshmen Paige Race and Hannah Rohr off the JV team.

The crucial first quarter saw Hiland get off to a great start defensively, not allowing West Holmes to even get a shot off on its first five trips down the floor. Meanwhile the Lady Hawks weren’t sizzling on offense, but they were doing enough to gently pull away.

Hiland freshman Bryn Mullet hit a pair of 3-pointers to get the scoring started, and Zoe Miller connected on an and-one to make it 9-0. Madison Yoder split a pair of free throws, Morgan Yoder did the same and Kennedy Schlabach knocked down a triple to end the quarter with Hiland up 14-0.

“That’s the second time this year we’ve gone scoreless in a quarter, and this time it put us in a huge hole we never recovered from,” Snyder said. “You can play defense as good as you possibly can, but if you don’t score, you’re going to be in a tough position. I thought we showed a little toughness in fighting back in the second quarter, but we can’t afford to put ourselves in that position.”

Kennedy Schlabach kicked off the second quarter by hitting from downtown again to give Hiland a 17-0 lead before the Lady Knights showed signs of life, getting a lift from freshman Rohr. Rohr’s jumper and Charolette Brown’s trey drew West Holmes within 17-5, and later in the quarter Rohr scored four more points to keep the Lady Knights close at 22-9.

“Hannah has come up off the JV team and played loose and with confidence,” Snyder said. “Hopefully that continues and the rest of our kids catch that.”

However, Hiland again applied the defensive clamps, shutting down West Holmes over the final three minutes while going on a 9-0 spree that was led by Zoe Miller to take a 31-9 halftime lead.

The Lady Hawks stormed out of the locker room with another 9-0 run, getting points from Mullet, Miller, Morgan Yoder and Krista Troyer, and at 40-9, the outcome was inevitable.

Lady Knights Kaylor Perone scored four points, but Hiland’s Sara Keim kept the lead where it was by scoring six points in the closing minute of the third period to maintain a 49-15 advantage.

“Sara played the best game of her life,” coach Schlabach said of his senior guard. “It looked like light bulbs went on for her tonight. She made shots, but more importantly she made great decisions and played with confidence. It’s fun to see that light come on and see that a kid has figured it out.”

Keim ended the night with eight points, adding four rebounds and three steals. Hiland was led in scoring by a pair of freshmen with Miller leading all scorers with 12 and Mullet adding 11. Kennedy Schlabach scored nine points and added six assists and six steals. Miller and Krista Troyer both collected seven rebounds for Hiland.

Perone led West Holmes with seven points and three assists while Rohr tacked on six points. Regan Wilcox added five rebounds to pace the Lady Knights on the glass while Perone chipped in with four.

“We weren’t terrible defensively,” Snyder said of her team. “That has been OK so far this season, but where we need to focus our attention is on some of the skill work. The problem is, that is typically a summer thing and not a winter thing. I think we are going to have to continue to go back and work on some of these skill things more in practice. We have a lot of young kids who don’t have any experience at this level, so we know it is going to be a process as we continue to work to get better for when tournament time comes.”

Coach Schlabach felt much the same about his team in terms of improving as the season rolls along. He has a ton of talent, and at some point he expects McMillen to return, and Hiland should get Weaver back in mid-January. Until then his youthful Lady Hawks will learn on the fly, something that should come quickly with this talent-laden freshman group.

“We’ve got to be patient,” Schlabach said. “We have been ugly some years and still won games, and we will have some difficult challenges ahead of us, but these kids are willing to play hard and learn.”

Good advice all around for a couple of teams with loads of young talent that simply needs to be developed.

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