Hiland coach Mark Schlabach was happy that his players were unhappy.
Even though the Hawks had just manhandled visiting Sandy Valley 52-34 in an Inter-Valley Conference clash last Tuesday, Hiland players were disappointed with the way they played, which the coach sees as a sign of maturity.
"Tonight was kind of a wake-up call," Schlabach said. "This was one of the first nights when we've won where our guys have been kind of down after the game. They didn't like the way they played. Winning wasn't good enough. That was good to see. Earlier in the year, we were just happy to win."
Hiland turned the ball over 18 times and misfired on 15 3-pointers, while canning six.
"We didn't value the ball. That was all we talked about after the game," Schlabach said. "All season long, when we've been behind, we play good ball, but when we have the lead, we make bad decisions. We haven't gotten out of that yet. This Saturday against GlenOak and every tournament game after that, value the basketball. Hopefully, we will."
Neither team seemed to value the ball early on, and neither had much luck getting started, going 0-for-half of the first quarter, before the Cardinals' Zach Schlimm connected from long range to give the Cardinals a 3-0 lead midway through the first period.
Collin Blochlinger stuck back a miss to get the Hawks on the board before Todd Ropp erupted for 3-pointers on three consecutive trips down the floor to give the Hawks an 11-3 lead. It was 11-5 at the end of the first quarter.
Ropp continued to enforce his will on the Cardinals, relentlessly pursuing loose balls and battling under the boards. The junior finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Hawks.
"Todd plays with passion," Schlabach said. "He played mad. We just tell him to go hard, get to the rim. He just out-plays people, and we saw that tonight."
Every time the Cardnals would close the gap, Ropp would answer for the Hawks. One of his many second-chance points gave Hiland a 20-9 lead late in the first half, but a 3-pointer by Andrew Lancaster and a three-point play by Nate Shepler pulled Sandy Valley within 22-15, but Ropp swished a pair of free throws and added a shot inside to give Hiland a 26-15 lead at the break.
Sandy Valley outscored Hiland 15-14 in the third quarter, but couldn't get any closer than 10, 40-30, heading into the final frame, when the Hawks put the game away with a 12-4 finish.
"We wanted to wear them down, so we probably stayed in the press too long and gave up some easy buckets," Schlabach said. "We let them hang around too long. Once we settled down and were able to make them work a little harder to score in the third quarter and into the fourth.
"They're a scrappy team and that was a scrappy game," the coach continued. "That's the hardest I've seen them play this year."
The Hawks had 10 different players score in all, but only two reached double figures. Blochlinger helped the Hiland charge with 10 points and six rebounds.
"This was another big game for Collin," Schlabach said. "Lucas (Mast) hurt his hand pretty bad yesterday in practice and Collin really stepped into those minutes tonight. He did a nice job for us."
The win improved Hiland's record to 17-4 on the season. Sandy Valley dipped to 4-16.
GlenOak 59, Hiland 50
Hosting GlenOak, Hiland went all the way up to Div. I to meet a tough opponent and gave it battle, but couldn't knock off the Golden Eagles. The Hawks just couldn't overcome a rough second quarter that saw them get outscored 21-10.
Hiland was paced by Todd Ropp with 17 points and Jordan Yoder finished with 13.
Hiland will open tournament play Feb. 26 vs. Caldwell at New Philadelphia High School at 6 p.m. The Hawks are the No. 1 seed in the sectional, Caldwell is No. 8.