Hiland's post duo comes up big in regional semifinal win


CAMBRIDGE — It's inevitable.

During a postseason run, even the best teams are going to have an off night. Wednesday, Hiland's jump shots weren't going in at a normal rate, and upset-minded Fort Frye threatened to send the Division III state title favorite home early.

But the Hawks turned to their post duo of Zoe Miller and Kelsey Swihart, and the two senior 6-footers delivered.

Miller and Swihart combined for 30 points as Hiland earned a hard-fought 46-39 win over Fort Frye to advance to the Division III regional finals. The Hawks are now one win away from qualifying for the state final four for the 18th time in program history.

Hiland goes head-to-head with Wheelersburg in Saturday's 1:30 p.m. regional championship at Chillicothe High School.

"We've been to Columbus (for the state final four) a lot and had some good years," said Hiland head coach Dave Schlabach, who's won five state titles at Hiland. "Guards can get you to Columbus, but you've got to have post players to win it.

"They had four really good guards that gave us a lot of trouble, but at the end we were able to put the ball in the post enough and hit some big shots. It's great having a post game, that's for sure."

The final four will be played in Dayton this year, but Schlabach's point remains — without Miller or Swihart, the Hawks probably would have lost Wednesday.

At one point Miller and Swihart had scored 30 of Hiland's 40 points, including most of the most important baskets of the night.

None were bigger than Swihart's put-back with 2:45 to go that gave Hiland a 40-39 lead, directly after Fort Frye's Olivia Schneider hit a 3 to give Fort Frye a one-point advantage.

"I just remember Zoe shooting it and me saying, 'I have to get this rebound,'" said Swihart, who finished with 13 points and five rebounds.

Swihart's bucket snapped a near four-minute-long scoring drought for the Hawks and made sure the Cadets didn't build real momentum so late in game. She also blocked a Fort Frye 3-pointer with 1:13 to go as Hiland clung to a 44-39 lead.

Hiland's normally potent starting backcourt trio only scored a combined 16 points, but went a perfect 6-for-6 from the line down the stretch to ice the victory.

Miller and Swihart went 13-of-25 from the field while the rest of the team went 3-of-16.

Swihart also had a huge part in Hiland's 10-0 run to end the first half, scoring seven of the Hawks' points during that stretch.

Miller also hit some of her biggest shots in the first half, including back-to-back 3s in the second quarter when the Hawks were having a tough time getting anything going.

Fort Frye took a 17-7 lead with 5:59 left in the second quarter before Miller launched her pair of 3s, giving Hiland the offensive jolt it needed to get going and, perhaps more importantly, set up its deadly full-court press that's destroyed so many opponents over the years.

"My teammates getting me open really helped," Miller said. "I know I don't want to lose and our team doesn't deserve to lose. We've put so much work into it. I just did what I had to do to catch up."

While Fort Frye handled the Hawks' pressure well, Hiland's defense sparked its late second-half run and the Cadets only managed 13 points over the final 19 minutes of action.

Still, it was an impressive effort by the Cadets, who out-rebounded the Hawks and led for almost the entire first half, including an 11-2 start.

"I told the coaches all week, of all the teams left in Division (III), I was most worried about (Fort Frye)," Schlabach said. "They're so well-coached, so physical, they have four really good guards who can handle our pressure. I don't think they turned it over in the backcourt hardly all game, and that's where we get a lot of our stuff. I knew it was going to be a half-court grind. (Head coach) Dan (Liedtke) does a great job over there.

"If they're in Division IV, they're in the state finals playing Fort Loramie."

Olivia Schneider led Fort Frye, which only played six players most of the game, with 11 points.

Fort Frye learned what so many teams have over the years — if the Hawks can't beat you one way, they'll find another. Wednesday, that meant Miller and Swihart taking control against the smaller Cadets.

Saturday, it could be college-bound guards like Morgan Yoder (Ashland), Brynn Mullet (Ohio Dominican) and Kyli Horn (Malone) leading the way.

Although they've done plenty of winning, the Hawks credited their only loss of 2020-21 as a big reason why they prevailed against Fort Frye.

"If we don't get beat by Napoleon, then we probably lose tonight," Schlabach said, harkening back to Hiland's 49-44 loss to Napoleon during the regular season. "We had to learn how to play from behind and not panic, to put the ball in the post and not just jack up a bunch of bad shots."

The Hawks hope the days of learning lessons the hard way are over.

Three more wins is all they need for that to be the case.