Hiland Hawks prove once again the big stage is where they belong


DAYTON — "Doubt" isn't a word they use in Berlin.

The Hiland Hawks don't think they're going to lose. They don't even think they're going to win.

They know.

As it's done over the past few seasons, Hiland proved it belonged on the big stage once again, saving its best for last to beat Purcell Marian 47-40 in a Division III state semifinal, clinching a spot in the state final for the 10th time in program history.

"We were all so confident we were going to pull out a win, we just had to fight for it," Hiland senior Kyli Horn said.

The big plays came from everywhere and everyone Thursday night. From freshman to senior. From starter to reserve. These Hawks live for moments like this.

"We talked about it in the locker room — 'no fear tonight,' Hiland coach Dave Schlabach said. "So many teams get down here to this level and all of a sudden they give away a quarter or two because they're afraid to make a mistake. We tell the kids all the time, 'If you think you can make a shot then we think you can make a shot. Go make the play. We trust you.'"

Five different Hawks scored after Purcell Marian took a 30-29 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Zoe Miller hit a free throw to tie. Morgan Yoder nailed a 3 to take the lead. Aila Miller sent in a put-back to go up three. Ashley Mullet swished a 3 to put Hiland ahead by five. Kelsey Swihart put home a layup off a laser pass from Zoe Miller.

"I was looking to score first, but obviously I knew [Swihart] was there and I knew she would catch it and finish," Zoe Miller said.

And Zoe Miller, the centerpiece of the Hawks, finished it off with an and-one that sealed the deal with 28 seconds to go.

None of those huge plays were accidental or lucky. Hiland has been preparing for this for a long time, and every second of that prep paid off down the stretch of its biggest game to date.

"The more the game was on the line, the more we executed," Schlabach said.

Hiland spends its regular season playing some of the best teams in the state and beyond, making sure it's surprised by nothing once the tournament comes along. This year, the Hawks faced Centennial High School from Las Vegas at the Classic in the Country — a team that had won five consecutive state titles in Nevada.

Division II state semifinalist Napoleon handed Hiland only its second loss of the past two seasons, giving the the Hawks a dose of the cruel defeat. Hiland is 105-10 over the past four years.

And Fort Frye pushed the Hawks to the brink in the regional semifinals, leading Hiland by double digits in the first half before Hiland made clutch plays in the second half to pull out another win.

All of those games, and others against Laurel, Pickerington Central, Canton McKinley and others prepared the Hawks for the big games in Dayton.

"We have five seniors who were all varsity players as freshmen," Schlabach said. "I had these kids in fourth-grade biddy ball. We've been through a lot of challenging big games. To not be able to finish last year was just devastating to this group. We're all heading out together and we're fighting for each other every single day. It's hard to beat a group like this."

Now, Ottawa-Glandorf is the only team left to beat for these seniors and Schlabach, who referenced his potential retirement from Hiland in his postgame press conference.

For one more time Hiland will take the big stage, at 2 p.m. Saturday in the state championship game.

And it's the big stage the Hawks have been waiting for the entire time.