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Tuneup is over
Hiland runs roughshod into regionals

Daily Record Sports Writer

GNADENHUTTEN -- There were signs Friday wasn't a good night for the Hiland girls basketball team.

The Hawks barely made half of their free throws and didn't make a 3-point shot in the first half of their Div. IV district title game at Indian Valley High School.

But, it was still Hiland on the floor. Pesky issues like shooting struggles weren't going to derail a fifth-straight district championship.

Defensive efficiency helped Hiland turn a 21-17 second-quarter lead into a runaway against Inter-Valley Conference cohort Strasburg, as the Hawks used a 41-18 second-half margin to beat the Tigers 74-40.

Hiland plays 21-1 East Canton at 8 p.m. Thursday in the second game of the Perry Regional.

"I thought we really took quick 3-pointers in the first half," Hiland coach Dave Schlabach said. "We're at our best when we penetrate and kick the ball out. We didn't find the open player quick enough in that first half. Hopefully, we're going to shoot the ball a little better next week."

After falling behind 20-7 at the end of the first quarter, Strasburg fought back. The Tigers used a 10-1 run at the start of the second to close within 21-17 and had the ball with a chance to get within two. That's when Hiland's ability to do things other than shoot became Strasburg's biggest issue.

Hiland caused a turnover and Jena Stutzman hit Karli Mast at the basket with 4:32 to break the run, then caused another turnover that turned into points when Layla Miller found Mast at the basket to push the Hiland lead to 25-17. A pair of layups from Mykeila Mast turned the game into a 29-17 Hiland lead and the runaway was on.

"When my point guard, Abby Froman, left with three fouls, we had a young player throw the ball away a couple times," Strasburg coach Chad Bonifant said. "That's a girl who had a great game Wednesday. We wouldn't have been here without her. But we panicked a bit against their pressure and it just snowballed. We just couldn't match their runs."

Hiland won this game with one of the best all-around efforts it has posted all season. With standout Stutzman struggling a bit shooting the ball, the Hawks got big efforts from plenty of other places. Karli Mast and Kristi Yoder had 15 points, Mykeila Mast had 10 and Hilary Weaver nine. The offense across the board was something that might not have shown up earlier in the season.

Hiland's ability to win, and do so convincingly, with seven points from their best player is the biggest positive to take forward.

"Jena was a little frustrated tonight," Schlabach said. "But, she rebounded and distributed the ball well. When she has the ball in her hands, we feel good about what can happen. I thought Rebekah Thomas and Mykeila Mast played really well. Our low post game was really a factor tonight."

Around the state, Hiland's district tournament was seen as little more than a warmup for when things get serious this weekend. After all, Hiland played three teams in its run to the district title that it beat twice each in the regular season, all by at least 27 points.

So, the perception isn't far off.

"We thought this would be a good, tough game for us," Schlabach said. "At this point in time, it gets more difficult. Our kids know that. We have kids who have been through this before. They understand what we're going to face."

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