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Hawks force Jeeps to run out of gas

Daily Record Sports Writer

PICKERINGTON -- At Hiland, it's all about defense.

The two-time defending Div. IV state champions laid down the pressure on a young South Webster team, and senior Lydia Miller scored a season-high 22 points, as Hiland won 51-33 in Thursday night's Pickerington North Div. IV Regional Semifinal.

The win sets up a titanic Saturday night final against Columbus Africentric, ranked No. 1 in the final Associated Press state poll.

"We consistently preach it," Hiland coach Dave Schlabach said of defense. "If you defend, at least there's room for error. And we had a lot of error in the first quarter."

After starting the game 0-of-10 from the floor, the Hawks (21-4) began capitalizing on some of the Jeeps' turnovers. They forced 11 in the second quarter, five of which led directly to points during a 17-0 run that gave the Hawks more than enough cushion.

The Jeeps never got within 10 points the rest of the game as Hiland went on to force 33 turnovers.

"We came out and did exactly what we wanted to do in the first quarter," South Webster coach Kristie Johnson said. "I wanted to start and have an explosive first quarter and we did that and I think that built our confidence.

"But Hiland just played some incredible defense. They had that strong pressure and forced 19 turnovers in the first half, and you're not going to win with 19 first-half turnovers."

The Hawks eventually caught on offensively as well.

Miller sparked the aforementioned second-quarter run with three inside buckets and a 3-pointer as the Hawks did most of the game's damage during a 3:18 span. By the time the run started, the Hawks had played 10 players while just six Jeeps had seen the floor.

"We like to escalate our pressure throughout the game," Schlabach said. "The first four or five minutes, we don't want to show everything and we'll play a token defense.

"But while they're wearing down a bit, we were rotating people in and I think that's the reason we've had a lot of second-quarter runs."

On top of that, a seasoned Hiland team was going against a Jeeps' squad that at one time had four freshmen on the floor.

"I think it's a good experience for them to see where they are and where we need to be," Johnson said. "We got two wins last season and we're 15-10 this year. I'm proud of them."

The Jeeps got a stellar showing from first-year point guard Kayla Cook, who finished with 24 points on 8-of-16 shooting. The Jeeps' next-closest scorer was Thea Culver, who finished with four.

Regardless, South Webster's showing this year puts it on the map in Div. IV basketball and it may be staying for awhile.

"I like their team," Schlabach said. "If we can get back here, there's a team I think you're going to see for years to come.

"Cook played tough. For a freshman to handle playing 32 minutes -- where we were trapping and running at her constantly -- that's impressive. If you put another 15 pounds on her over the next couple years, look out."

Along with her 22 points, Miller added five rebounds for Hiland. Guard Jena Stutzman went for 17 points to go with five boards and five assists. And freshman Hilary Weaver also dished out five helpers.

But even when the Hawks were struggling offensively, Miller was on her game.

"She's played so well the last five games," Schlabach said. "She's played like a senior, very Lindsay Stuckey-ish. She continues to raise her game every night out."

"If we can keep winning, Lydia is just going to get better and better."

The Hawks will tip off with Africentric Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Pickerington North High School.

Hiland has won the game each of the last two seasons and went on to win state titles.

The Nubians have won the last two Associated Press polls.

The matchup is set.

Courtesy The Daily Record, Wooster, Ohio

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