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ATHENS -- Life is all about second chances.
So, apparently, is basketball, and the Fairland boys basketball team made the most of its second chance on Saturday night against Hiland.
The fourth-ranked Panthers, after a surviving a scare from Garaway in Wednesday night's semifinals in which they trailed by six points with 2:31 left, bounced back with a near-flawless performance in downing the Hawks 61-47 in a Div. III regional final Saturday night at Ohio University's Convocation Center.
Fairland's Luke Thomas led all scorers with 24 points, with Gunner Short adding 14 more as the Panthers advanced to their first Final Four since 1961. Fairland, now 23-1, will meet Cleveland Villa Angela St. Joseph in a state semifinal game on Friday in Columbus.
Andrew Miller led Hiland with 13 points, while Scott Troyer added 10 for the Hawks, who saw their season come to an end at 22-5.
"We knew we were going to have to play very well, and play well for four quarters," Hiland coach Mark Schlabach said. "We got off to a good start in the opening quarter because we were able to get stops, but their run at the end of the half was tough to overcome. Unfortunately, we only played one quarter well tonight."
Hiland led 14-11 after one period of play and stretched its margin to 16-11 on the first position of the second period on a pair of Turner Horn free throws, before the Panthers responded with a 12-4 run to the end the half. Thomas and Short combined for eight of those points, while the Hawks converted just 2 of 9 field goal attempts during the Panthers' spurt.
"I can't remember a game all season in which we gave up a run like we did in closing the half," Schlabach said. "We got a little impatient offensively during that spurt and started to get in a race with them and that was one thing we couldn't do. When you play (Fairland), you have to pick your poison because of all the talent they have and the margin of error is already small to begin with. They're really good for a team having all juniors. They have no weaknesses."
Thomas scored seven of Fairland's first nine points to open the third quarter as the Panthers built their first double-digit lead of the game at 32-22 with 5:20 left in the period. The Panthers led 41-27 after three, and then added to their advantage after Thomas and Short strung together five points during a 7-0 run that made it 46-29 with 6:21 left in the game.
"Hiland was probably the best team we've seen all year coming into the game at applying pressure defense, but I thought our guys did a terrific job of handling it," Fairland coach Nathan Speed said. "We struggled a little offensively early on, and we did the same in our game on Wednesday, but the biggest improvement tonight, I thought, was our kids' intensity on defense. When we found our rhythm offensively was when we started getting stops at the other end of the floor."
Although Hiland trimmed the lead to 10 on two occasions in the middle part of the final period, at 46-36 and 48-38, it was Thomas who eventually shut the door on the Hawks' comeback, and season. Thomas scored six more points down the stretch as the Panthers built their lead back to 54-38 with 2:55 remaining.
"The bottom line is that we just didn't play well enough to win tonight, but I also think our guys got just about everything they could out of themselves this season, and maybe overachieved a little bit, too," Schlabach said. "We improved as the season went on, and our seniors, Turner Horn, Chris Kline and Noah Sommers, provided leadership and did a lot of great things for us.
"We're going to miss them next year."
Hiland converted just 18 of 50 shot attempts (36 percent), and just 5 of 17 3-point attempts. Fairland connected on 26 of 56 field goals for 46 percent. Fairland held a 37-30 advantage on the galss with Kollin Van Horn and Ty Staten grabbing nine each for the Panthers. Horn and Sommers also hauled in nine apiece for Hiland.