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Lakota West 'runs' past host Hiland

Daily Record Sports Writer

BERLIN -- Lakota West is regarded as one of the top teams in the Midwest, let alone Ohio.

And the Firebirds showed why Saturday night at the Classic in the Country IV.

Playing host Hiland, winners of the last two Div. IV state championships, Lakota West started the game on a 15-2 run and scored the first 13 points of the second half, eventually handing the Hawks a 57-32 setback at The Perry Reese Community Center.

"Basketball is a game of runs," Lakota West coach Andy Fishman said. "Most of the time the game is back-and-forth, but when you get on a run you have to put the other team away."

The Firebirds (11-1), ranked No. 2 in the first Div. I Associated Press state poll and No. 9 in the USA Today's Midwest Regional rankings, played 12 girls total and 10 more than 10 minutes. They had three starters on the bench with two fouls for most of the second quarter -- a stanza when Hiland pieced together a run of its own to tie it at 19 at intermission -- but ruled the third quarter and beyond.

"Amazingly, I feel better about losing one like this than I did after one of our 50-point wins last week," Hiland coach Dave Schlabach said. "We learned a lot tonight. We learned we can play with good people when we defend and we rebound.

"It would have been interesting had we been able to do anything in the first two minutes of the second half. It would have been nice just to make them think about it a little bit."

With junior guard Jena Stutzman making all four of her shot attempts and scoring 10 of her team-high 15 points, and Lakota West playing poor offensively (1-of-7 shooting, five turnovers), Hiland had the home crowd on its feet heading to the locker room.

But Lakota West outscored Hiland 24-8 in the third, scoring 19 of the first 21 points, and never looked back. Amber Gray, a 6-foot-1 forward considered one of the top 10 juniors nationally, had six of her game-high 16 points in the stretch.

"When we went in at halftime there was no panic, no great concern," Fishman said. "We felt that if we kept playing our game -- getting back to establishing an inside presence, getting in transition as much as possible -- that things would even out. And by even out I mean us pulling away."

Gray, who picked up her second foul with 4:14 left in the first quarter and didn't play the remainder of the half, played just a touch over 13 minutes total. She made the most of them.

Her thunderous block of Stutzman, which led to a run out and hoop by Tessa Elkins with less than two seconds remaining in the third quarter, put Lakota up 43-27. She then scored six more points in the first three minutes of the fourth -- making all three shots she took to finish 7-of-9 from the floor in all -- to help Lakota West out to a 20-plus point cushion it would hold.

Guard Katie Rhoads (nine points) and forward Alexis Rogers (six points, game-high eight rebounds) were the next two highest Lakota West scorers. They were a combined 7-of-20 from the floor, including 1-of-9 from 3-point range, as the Firebirds made a season-low 3-point total (2-of-19).

It offset that by outrebounding Hiland by 20 in the second half and 38-19 total, ultimately taking 20 more shots than Hiland

"I can't remember the last time we were beaten by 20, if there ever was a time," Schlabach said. "We couldn't hit a shot early, but we stayed with it and worked our way back in it. In the third quarter it was a combination of not staying committed to what we wanted to do ... and that was also the most tired I've seen us get this year."

Lydia Miller added eight points for Hiland, while starting freshman point guard Hilary Weaver (5-6) posted team highs of four rebounds and three assists. Hiland had 21 turnovers and no second-chance points.

"Mental and physical toughness are things I've questioned about this team," Schlabach said. "I want to know what kind of goals they've got in mind. Monday will be another test for us."

Hiland will play Wadsworth, the top-ranked team in the Div. I AP poll, Monday evening (8:30 p.m.).

Courtesy The Daily Record, Wooster, Ohio

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