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Hiland takes a bow in day's finale

Daily Record Sports Writer

BERLIN -- It was perfect.

Hiland coach Dave Schlabach and his team were again on the biggest stage in Ohio this side of the state tournament and his team gave him what he wanted against a taller, stronger and slightly quicker Columbus Brookhaven team.

They boxed out, they played defense and, just as in any big Hiland victory, they hit the 3-ball. All of it resulted in a 51-43 Hiland victory at the Classic in the Country V, breaking its three-game losing streak at the annual showcase.

It was as good as the Hawks have looked in the regular season since 2006, the year of their last state title, and it was in front of a raucous Reese Center crowd.

"We always talk about a game we had in Tennessee over the summer being the last time we reached our potential," said Schlabach, whose team moved to 14-1. "Tonight we got as close to that as we've been all season.

"But it helps to have 1,000 people on your side."

The Bearcats (12-4) usually matched up with Hiland's players with a few-inch height advantage. But the Hawks came away with a 40-31 edge on the glass.

They brought the press often, and heavily. But Hiland held them to just five points off turnovers.

And where the Bearcats were weaker, in experience, the Hawks took advantage of as well, hitting 6-of-15 from downtown, many of them wide open.

"It was a huge win because we were playing someone good and we had to play well to win," said senior Jena Stutzman, who finished with 13 points, eight boards and three assists. "Everybody made plays and the bench was huge."

Stutzman likely played the best game of her season.

Several other Hawks were as good as they've been in their careers.

Sophomore Mykeila Mast, giving up five inches to Brookhaven scoring machine Da'Keisha Mann, played admirably in the post. Classmate Katelyn Stuckey scored 11 points, while playing her usual hard-nosed defense. And seniors Layla Miller and Gabby Fowler have stepped up their games, playing like their ages.

"After the Garaway loss, we started starting all seniors," Schlabach said. "We figured if we were going to make a run they were going to have to take things over. Jena stepped up for us. We got what we expect from seniors."

Early on that wasn't much -- at least on offense. The Hawks didn't score until Stutzman buried a 25-footer with 3:45 in the first quarter. They didn't score again until a 3 from Karli Mast with a little under two minutes left. And they didn't get a close range shot to drop until there was 47 seconds left in the first quarter, that one on a backdoor cut by Fowler where Stutzman put the pass right on the mark for a lay-in.

But that was the theme for the Hawks. They pulled out their old bag of tricks, hitting 3s and killing the Bearcats on backdoor cuts. When it wasn't that it was throwing over the top of the press for an easy lay-up.

"We couldn't get caught standing around looking at what was going on," said 27th-year Brookhaven coach Reggie Lee, whose team is 0-5 at the CITC. "If we did that they were going to hit us with a backdoor or they were going to go long.

"And on top of that, they're scrappy as hell."

But so were the Bearcats. Led by a 16-point effort from Mann, they were able to claw back from down 13. They cut the deficit to five before Stuckey split the defense for a lay-in with just over a minute left.

"This was a learning experience," said Lee, who relies on the play of one of the state's most talented freshmen classes. "We're going to learn something from this game."

Much like the Hawks have apparently learned from a slip-up of a week-and-a-half ago. Hiland blew a double-digit lead against Inter-Valley Conference rival Garaway to lose its first league game in 94 tries just 10 days ago. This wasn't the same team that took the court at the Reese Center that night.

"I talked to the kids about this one," Schlabach said. "This is a game we can stick in our hip pocket and look at down the road.

"It's not going to put any points on the board in the tournaments, but it's something we can look back on."

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