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13:15 defines a championship effort

Daily Record Sports Writer

COLUMBUS -- 13:15.

That's the amount of time the Hiland girls basketball team held mighty Columbus Africentric scoreless Monday. And that's exactly what the Hawks needed to take down the state's No. 1 team and win the Div. IV title at the 33rd Annual State Girls Basketball Tournament.

Hiland coupled its stifling defense with some timely shooting to pull out a 44-37 victory and wrap up its fourth title since 2000.

"During that stretch they were knocking down shots, big 3s, and we weren't getting the ball in the basket," Africentric coach Will McKinney said. "We were hitting our shots early on and then we got flat."

The Hawks scored 24 unanswered points during the stretch, running a team that came in averaging 75.7 points per game out of the gym. Hiland came in as heavy underdogs against a team with five Div. I college prospects in its starting lineup. Even the Schottenstein Center's announcer couldn't believe it, proclaiming the Hawks "runner-up" as they received their championship trophy.

But the Hawks made believers out of plenty around the state.

Led by senior Jena Stutzman's 14 points, Hiland changed a 15-5 deficit out of the gates into a 32-17 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

In the opening frame, Hiland committed six turnovers and shot just 2-of-8 from the floor. Over the next two quarters, they turned it over just three times, while forcing Africentric to 2-of-19 shooting.

"We believe in rebounding, defense and skill development," Hiland coach Dave Schlabach said. "And I think all three were a huge factor today."

At the outset, it looked as though Hiland (27-1) would just become another victim of the Nubians (25-2), a team that's won the Columbus City League each of the last three seasons. They didn't score in the game's first five minutes and watched the Nubians build an easy lead.

"We came out at the beginning and we were flustered and we didn't have any confidence," said Stutzman, who was named the Div. IV tournament's most outstanding player. "We got together and decided we needed to be fundamental, we needed to play as a team, we needed to be confident. Once we did that, we were fine."

At the 6:55 mark in the second quarter, the Nubians were on a tear. Forward Ashar Harris just scored on a putback and the Hawks appeared on the way to the business end of a blowout.

Down 15-5, Hiland did the unthinkable. They completely shut down the Nubians' high-octane offense.

The defense sagged down against a team that lives for offensive rebounds. The Hawks loosely covered Africentric point guard Shardai Morrison-Fountain on the perimeter and face-guarded Div. IV Player of the Year Tyeasha Moss. The rest of the team was given open looks at 3s. Unfortunately for the Nubians, Moss was the team's lone outside-shooting threat and she was just 2-of-18 from the floor before hitting her final five shots en route to a 15-point performance.

The lack of scoring kept Africentric out of its press most of the game, and Hiland used that to its advantage. The Hawks used a precision halfcourt attack to methodically put points on the board while the Nubians struggled to find the net.

It wasn't until the fourth quarter, with Hiland comfortably ahead, that the Nubians started clicking, cutting a 15-point deficit to seven by game's end.

"It's difficult to get in pressure situations when you're not scoring the basketball," McKinney said. "But the fourth quarter we hit shots and got some pressure."

Hiland, winner of three of the last four state titles, has only tasted tournament defeat at the hands of Africentric once since 2005. The Nubians topped Hiland 52-36 at last year's Pickerington Regional final before winning the state title.

That left Hiland watching the 2007 state championship game in Columbus.

"Losing last year stunk," said Stutzman, who'll continue her career at Kent State. "But that gave us motivation. Every year our goal is to win the state championship.

"We work hard and no matter who we play we come to win."

Hiland won the turnover battle against the high-pressure Nubians 15-14. Africentric held the rebounding edge 34-30. In Africentric games, the two stats are usually in favor of the Nubians by a lopsided margin.

But the Hawks pretty well went out and beat Africentric the way they've beaten everyone this season. They ran when they needed to run. They slowed it down in the halfcourt when needed. And they were out of position only a couple times.

In the end, the Hawks' fourth state title looked more pedestrian than surprising.

Hiland became just the fifth team in state history to win four state titles. And if the Hawks weren't already considered a dynasty, they should be now.

Hiland, a team that rotated 10 players, also had an advantage in depth. The Nubians played just one player off the bench.

Hilary Weaver came off the bench with eight points, while Katelyn Stuckey had seven and Kristi Yoder six.

"(Africentric is) a good team, and a talented team. They're going to have five Div. I players," Schlabach said. "But every single one of our kids made a big play."

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