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Hiland rolls into title game

Daily Record Sports Writer

COLUMBUS -- The Hiland girls basketball team uses a rugged non-conference schedule to prepare itself for the state tournament.

Their Inter-Valley Conference games, which they won by an average of 38.1 points a night, prepared them for Thursday's contest against New Riegel at the 33rd Annual State Girls Basketball Tournament.

The second-ranked Hawks treated the Blue Jackets, ranked No. 12 in the state, like they did several teams this season. This time it was to the tune of 58-38.

"More than anything this was a typical game for us," said Hiland coach Dave Schlabach, his team improving to 26-1. "A lot of people contributed. You're never sure just who's going to have the hot hand, get the big rebound or make the big play."

Junior guard Karli Mast contributed the most, coming off the bench to score 16 points, all in the first half. Post Katelyn Stuckey tallied 11, while Hilary Weaver, also off the bench, had 10 points and seven assists.

On top of all that, senior Jena Stutzman tallied seven points to finish the day atop the Hawks' career-scoring list. She now has 1,629, two more than Lindsay Stuckey, a 2006 graduate.

But after the game's first 3:33 it looked like New Riegel would be moving on to Saturday's final. The Blue Jackets came out with hot hands and led 12-4.

"We couldn't have asked for a better start," said New Riegel coach Steve Lucius after his team closed the year 22-4. "We were real concerned about that with just one senior and a bunch of young kids that haven't been here.

"We had a great start, but then it came to a grinding halt, especially offensively."

After hitting 7-of-9 shots out of the gates, the scoring stalled for the Blue Jackets, who knocked off previously unbeaten Fostoria St. Wendelin in their regional final.

New Riegel shot just 7-of-33 in the final three quarters, good for just 21 percent.

Meanwhile, the Hawks turned up the heat offensively.

Mast kept things going early before everyone else got into the scoring column.

Hiland won the second quarter 18-2. They allowed just 20 points in the last three quarters after allowing 18 in the opening period.

"It seemed like we were stuck on 18 forever," Lucius said. "I don't know when we scored again, but it seemed like a long time."

The Hawks shut New Riegel out for 6:25.

It was classic Berlin Bomber ball in the final 24 minutes. The Hawks, who go 10 deep, ran the tired Blue Jackets off the court.

"Their depth was the key, they just kept bringing people in," Lucius said. "They're strong, they're physical, and they just wear you down.

"(Lone senior Jackie Reinhart) was just tired. She had to keep bringing the ball up against a defense that was fresh every two minutes."

On top of all that, New Riegel was making its first trip to the Final Four since 1997. Hiland is shooting for its fourth title since 2000.

"To them, this is probably like sectionals," Lucius said. "This was a brand-new experience to our kids. When you're here you have to have enough experience to where it's like it's normal."

And that's what Hiland had.

The Hawks were slow out of the gates, but figured it all out after about five minutes. They stopped allowing the New Riegel posts to get open shots inside, and they figured out the Jackets' zone defense.

"We found a gap in the middle and Karli and Jena hit those shots," Schlabach said. "We have the players that can turn, catch and shoot quick and Hilary did a nice job of finding them."

New Riegel got 15 points from post Lauren Hutton. Reinhart tallied five to go with five assists.

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