There is a reason when Hiland and Zanesville’s Bishop Rosecrans play the games are always so intense.
The two teams always meet up late in the season during the tournament, which means, one team is going to knock the other out, ending their dreams of state titles and all that glory.
Friday night was another example of the heated rivalry, that was intensified by the bold move by the Bishops to pass on their first selection at the tournament draw, leaving the next pick Hiland.
After Hiland took its spot in the bracket, the Bishops’ braintrust opted to chase Hiland, and go in the same bracket.
This meant Rosecrans would have the home court advantage when the two teams met for the sectional championship instead of playing on a neutral court like the previous 18 meetings between the two schools.
Rosecrans could have taken a different path in the bracket and not met Hiland until the district semifinals or finals (provided both teams won their matchups), and after the 20-point beat down by the Hawks on Friday night, Feb. 28 in Zanesville, Bishops coach Todd Rock is probably wishing he’d have taken that route.
But, he felt he did what was best for his kids.
At the time of the tournament draw, the Hawks were hurting, as their star, 6-3 senior Sam Habeger was out of the lineup.
How was he to know the Hawks would rally around each other during the final five games of the season that Habeger missed, and develop into a cohesive unit that was only bolstered by his return to action.
With 6-feet, 8-inch Korrie Hostetler, 6-3 Habeger and 6-1 Hunter Sommers across the front, the Hawks created several mismatches for the Bishops, whose lineup was 5-11, 5-11, 5-10, 6-0, and 5-9.
Hiland’s height and length forced many altered shots, and led to several blocked shots as well. The Bishops went 1 for 9 in the third quarter, and did only slightly better in the fourth, making 3 of 11, going 4 for 20 from the floor in the second half.
The big 3 for the Hawks, meanwhile, hit 12 of 17 action shots, and were relentless on the boards.
This was the 10th time in the past 12 meetings the Hawks got the best of the Bishops (Hiland is 14-5 all time against Rosecrans).
One of Hiland’s biggest hurdles on its way to Columbus last season was the 48-39 district semifinal win over the Bishops at Coshocton High School. I wonder what a boost this year’s win will be.
During my tenure as a sports writer, covering Hiland since 1989, I have seen several memorable battles between these two teams. But none was as exciting to me as the Saturday afternoon showdown on March 13, 1999, at Meadowbrook.
That game featured some great scorers for both teams: Joe Bills, who went on to star for Wright State, and Doug Whiteman for the Bishops, and Kendall Schlabach and Matt Miller for Hiland.
Hiland pulled out a 97-92 triumph, thanks to a flawless fourth quarter from the foul line by Joe Miller, who stroked 12 straight. He lamented that if he hadn’t missed that one free throw in the first half, he’d have gone 14-for-14.
Bills and Whiteman each scored 39 for the Bishops, raining threes from all over the court.
Schlabach was in a zone as well, scoring 30 for the Hawks. But it was Joe Miller’s monumental effort from the foul line that I remember most. Matt Miller says that was the best game he ever played in.
Hiland also had to get past Rosecrans en route to their state championship in 2011, when the top-rated Bishops fell to the Hawks 66-57. And again in 2012.
This rivalry game tends to bring out the best in Hiland. At least, that’s been the case for the past 12 years or so.