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COLUMBUS -- Did Hiland's come-from-behind victory in Thursday's state semifinals mean that the Hawks were vulnerable?
Or just simply invincible?
The Hawks proved to defending champion Waterford on Saturday afternoon it was the latter of the two choices.
Top-ranked Hiland was hitting on all cylinders from start to finish in its 61-41 win over the Panthers (25-4) in the Div. IV title game at The Ohio State University's Jerome Schottenstein Center. The 29-1 Hawks claimed their fifth state championship in their state-record 15th trip to the Final Four.
"It's been a quite a year, and for our girls to be able to finish it off with a state championship is just awesome," said Hiland coach Dave Schlabach, now 585-89 in 26 seasons at Hiland. "I know we've talked about it a lot this season, but after our devastating loss in the regionals last year, our girls were overly-committed in getting back down here this year.
"Our kids have worked extremely hard, and it's been a few years since we've last won one of these (state titles), nine to be exact (2008). We're happy to bring a state championship back to Holmes County."
Angela Troyer led Hiland with 20 points, while Morgan McMillen added 17. Jessica Troyer was next with nine points and Tiffany Weaver chipped in with eight. Kennedy Schlabach, who hit the buzzer-beating game-winner on Thursday, was limited to five points but handed out a game-high six assists. Angela Troyer, the Div. IV Player of the year, finished her two games at Value City Arena with a combined 38 points, six rebounds, six assists, and six steals.
"I've always wanted to end my career (at the Schottenstein Center), and to finally be able to do it with my teammates that I've spent so much time with is special," said Troyer, a 5-foot-9 senior. "No one has ever cared how many points they score on this team, just winning games. I've been playing basketball since I was in the first grade and this moment is all I've ever thought about."
Following Hiland's dramatic, late-game win over Ottoville on Thursday in which it didn't grab its first lead until 3:23 remained in the contest, the only real drama Saturday was waiting to see how long it would take the Hawks to put the game away.
As it turned out, it didn't take long at all.
Hiland led 9-6 after the opening period, and following a basket from Waterford's Alli Kern that cut the margin to 11-10 on the third possession of the second period, it was all Hawks thereafter.
Four consecutive Hiland baskets, all on 3-pointers, from McMillen, Schlabach and a pair from Angela Troyer, built the advantage to double digits at 27-16 with 2:21 left until halftime. Although the Panthers sliced into the lead at 27-21 on a pair of Hannah Duff free throws with 2:11 remaining, four straight points from Jessica Troyer pushed the lead back to 10 (31-21) at the break and the Hawks never looked back.
"I thought once we relaxed and started to speed the game up was the turning point," Schlabach said. "We forced them into some quick turnovers (19 on the game) and we started to get the ball inside to Tiffany, which was one of our goals going into the game, and that opened up some opportunities for Angela and Morgan. Jessica's points to end the first half were huge, too, which enabled us to keep our momentum."
Hiland stretched its lead to 21 early in the third period as the Hawks scored on five of their first six possessions during an 11-0 spurt. Weaver opened the scoring on a lay-up just seconds into the frame, followed by a McMillen bucket and a pair of Angela Troyer free throws that made it 37-21 at the 6:21 mark.
A McMillen 3-pointer, followed by a runner in the lane from the 5-9 junior gave the Hawks a 42-21 lead with 4:33 remaining.
"That run that Hiland made, which ended up being 15-0 when you count the last four points of the first half, was definitely a game-changer and really punched our girls in the mouth," Waterford coach Jerry Close said. "We knew going into the game that it was going to be an incredible challenge for us because they have so many weapons and are such a great team. We have no seniors, though, and we'll work even harder to get back here next year. We just weren't good enough to play with Hiland today."
Waterford's Kern, a junior and first-team All-Ohioan, led the Panthers with 17 points and 10 rebounds, while second-team pick and classmate Megan Ball finished with nine points and 10 boards.
Hiland led 49-30 going to the fourth period, then widened the gap to 56-33 with 3:30 remaining before Schlabach pulled his starters one-by-one to a rousing ovation from the Hiland faithful that were part of the 4,759 in attendance.
Hiland finished the afternoon 22 of 49 from the field (45 percent), and 8 of 19 behind the arc, while Waterford converted 16 of 44 attempts (36 percent), and just 1 of 7 3-pointers. Waterford outrebounded Hiland 32-27.
"I'm not sure if it's relief in winning the championship, but more of a testament to the kids in our program that have worked so long and hard and have dedicated themselves to our success," Schlabach said. "Most of these girls were ballgirls when we made those runs to the state tournament in the mid to late 2000s, and for them to have their chance now is just a special feeling.
"We'll certainly enjoy this one," he added, "but it's back to work after 30 days. I want our girls to rest and relax now, but then it's right back to it. After a month or so, no one will really care that we won the championship because other teams will be working harder, too.
"Waterford has everyone back, and I'm sure they're going to be a favorite to return next year for a fourth straight season. The goal of giving ourselves an opportunity to win a state championship every year will never change."