Going to state is great — Hawks sound off on earning Final Four berth

Going to state is great — Hawks sound off on earning Final Four berth

Image Credit: Dave Mast

With the emotions of earning a Div. IV state tournament berth upon them, the Hiland Hawks boys basketball team spelled out what got it over the hump to earn a state berth in a difficult tournament run that saw the Hawks earn that state berth with a gutsy 56-46 win over Latham Western in Athens March 11.

Here are some bits and pieces of how the accomplishment came to pass:

—Fifth-graders and state. That’s when this group of seniors began talking about making an appearance at the state tournament. After a heartbreaking loss in regional finals last season and COVID-19 wiping away a team on the verge of making it to state the year prior, this was redemption time.

“We’ve been working toward this for a long time,” senior Tony Yoder said. “Last year we couldn’t quite get over the hump, so this felt really good to get over that mountain. I’m overjoyed right now.”

“When we went to state our freshman year, we all were there and we all saw what it takes to get there,” said senior Dylan Weaver. “We learned from that, applied it and went out and just grinded our way through some really tough game to make it happen.”

—The sweet sound of ripping the cords on a perfect shot is a sound to behold, and two such occasions occurred late when Caden Miller it the two biggest free throws of his career when he nailed two of them late in the contest to seal Hiland’s win over Latham Western. For the Hiland senior, it was a dream come true.

“That’s exactly where I wanted to be,” Miller said.

—Super-sub Dylan Weaver, a senior who has accepted a role off the bench despite being one of the team’s top scorers, went down with an ankle injury early in the game. When that happened, it forced Hiland to switch gears, and other players had to step up.

“Sammy stepped up, Caden stepped up, Alex Yoder stepped up, Phin Killy came in and gave us big minutes,” Hiland coach Mark Schlabach said. "Without Dylan out there, we had to find other ways to score. It got us out of our game plan a little bit. A lot of what we wanted to do was try to get the ball to Dylan a lot.”

“They all stepped up and played really hard,” Weaver said of his teammates. “They were grinding out there. They got every rebound we needed at the end and played so hard.”

—As for Shetler’s dominance, coach Schlabach said seeing Shetler come full circle after last season’s horrifying broken leg was special.

“Chris wanted the ball,” Schlabach said. “He was demanding the ball and that was the best Chris has looked and what we always thought he would be if he wouldn’t have gotten injured. It was nice to have someone who really wanted the ball. We ran everything we had to get a post touch for him. He made great decisions with the ball.”

—“Three stops, three scores” is a Hiland mantra the team turns to in big-time moments. Hiland got it early in the fourth quarter to on a Grant Miller steal, Sammy Detweiler’s block, Grant Miller taking a charge and Shetler’s steal. The Hawks scored on all four of those defensive stops.

It was exactly what Hiland has done time and again this season, especially in tourney play.

“We feel like if we can start quarters and games like that, with three stops and three scores, that’s kind of our mantra,” Schlabach said. “That’s what we had to start that quarter, and that was the game.”

—Going back in time, Schlabach was asked about if he and his team talked about this moment before the season began. He said it’s not about winning, but something else that drives his team.

“What we talk about with our guys is let’s try to reach our potential as a team,” Schlabach said. “We always say that if we reach our potential, we’ve got a really good chance to win our district championship. If we win a district championship, we feel like we’ve got a really good chance to win a regional championship. Our district is really good. It’s a grind.”

—The TV show “Dirty Jobs” featuring Mike Rowe has him going into the nastiest, dirties places top take on doing the dirty work most people wouldn’t touch. That has been Tony Yoder all season.

The senior guard has made one huge play after another in Hiland’s tight games, and in most cases, those plays led directly to victories, whether it was him poking an offensive rebound to a teammate, taking a charge, getting a steal, a key stop or simply handling pressure when it matters the most.

It’s a thankless job, but one he relishes.

“A lot of that stuff won’t go in the stat book, but I am willing to do whatever necessary to win a game,” Yoder said.

Others may not recognize it, but his coaches do.

“He’s one of those kids who finds way to help his team win,” Schlabach said of Yoder. “And he is relentless, and it’s every game.”

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