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Role players help Hiland roll in OT

Daily Record Sports Writer

MILLERSBURG -- Two plays by Hiland girls who entered the season as role players defined Saturday's Holmes County crossover game at West Holmes.

Senior Gabby Fowler hit a 3-pointer to give Hiland a 45-44 lead with 2:57 left in overtime, then sophomore Hilary Weaver gave the Hawks the lead for good on another 3-pointer with 58 seconds left in a 49-46 win over the Knights.

"We really had some kids make huge plays for us," Hiland coach Dave Schlabach said. "Jessica Stutzman played for the second time all year, came in and made some huge plays. Gabby and Hil hit some big shots for us in overtime. They're a good team. Noelle (Yoder) is as good a player as you'll find around here. She got on a roll and hit some big shots. We really wanted to limit her touches."

West Holmes (8-2) found itself in a second quarter hole deep enough it was going to be a lot of work to fight back. After the Knights took a 6-2 lead on a Yoder jumper, Hiland (9-0) got a short jumper and a 3-pointer from all-Ohioan Jena Stutzman to take an 8-6 lead. By the time the run was over in the second quarter, Hiland led 18-6 and led 25-10 late in the second quarter. Yoder worked her way to the bucket and got a pair of free throws to end the run, then a Mallory Arnold bucket at the end of the half breathed life back into West Holmes.

As the Knights fought back in the second half, the sophomore Yoder kept leading the charge with junior center Sarah Hammond. Hammond scored twice to start the third quarter as the Knights built momentum, then Yoder banked in a 3-pointer from the left corner to close West Homes within 27-21. The best from West Holmes' talented sophomore was still to come.

She scored the Knights' first two baskets of the fourth quarter, then made a 3-pointer from the top of the key that closed the score to 39-36 in the middle of the fourth. It was the first time the Knights had been within a basket since a Fowler 3-pointer gave Hiland an 11-6 lead in the first quarter. Yoder eventually gave the Knights a 42-41 lead with 2:25 left on a pair of free throws.

Yoder had a look at the end of the game that would have won it, but the shot rattled out. Her hot hand was so warm, the fact she had a look had Schlabach wondering if he'd have time to call time out and get a shot to tie.

"Noelle's a determined kid," West Holmes coach Lisa Patterson said. "She never backs down from a challenge. She did a good job of keeping at it and reminding her teammates that they needed to stay aggressive and take shots when they had them. She really showed the potential she has today."

The game ended with one final opportunity for Yoder to work some magic, something Hiland wasn't willing to allow. With 10 seconds left in overtime and Hiland clinging to its 49-46 lead, the Hawks knew the ball would likely go to Yoder or Arnold at the end. So, after time outs from both teams, the Hawks relied on the most underrated of their paths to victory. They hunkered down at the defensive end and didn't allow a clean look for Yoder or Arnold.

Hiland's defensive effort might go underappreciated. The Hawks held West Holmes to 32.1 percent shooting and forced 19 turnovers.

"We just wanted to make sure we did what we needed to do to make sure we didn't give up a 3-pointer," Schlabach said. "We were willing to give up a layup if we needed to, but we didn't want them to have a chance to tie it."

The teams will both take something important from the game.

For West Holmes, it took determination to climb out of the hole and do so against a good team. To make it all the way back, the Knights had to overcome their own tendency a bit.

"I told them in the lockerroom that the fact we dug ourselves that hole and came back out of it is a great thing," Patterson said. "I didn't know if we would because these girls have the tendency to be hard on themselves, but they really came back. It's a huge positive that we were able to fight back and get this to overtime."

For Hiland, the positive was more about the type of game it was. Since opening the season with a 42-34 win at Garaway, the most competitive game Hiland has played was Thursday's 35-point win over Strasburg. Getting a challenge, especially one as stiff as the one provided by West Holmes, was just what Hiland needed.

"This game was really important for us," Schlabach said. "We needed a game like this really bad. There's nothing like being in a game with the clock running down and you're tired. We weren't pleased with how we executed at times and how we took care of the basketball. But, we needed to find out how good we are. That's a good team we played today."

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