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MASSILLON -- The standard in girls Div. IV basketball remains the same -- it's Hiland and then everyone else.
The No. 1-ranked Hawks completed their season-long quest in returning to the state championships with a buzzsaw of a performance on Saturday, demolishing Jackson-Milton 63-20 in a wire-to-wire rout in the Massillon Regional title game that brought the program its record-upping 15th Final Four appearance.
Hiland advances to play No. 7 Ottoville, 59-42 winners over Old Fort in a district title game in Elida, in Thursday's 8 p.m. state semifinals at The Ohio State University's Jerome Schottenstein Center.
It also solidified the Hawks (26-1), and their dynamic trio of senior Angela Troyer, and juniors Kennedy Schlabach and Morgan McMillen, as one of the most versatile teams -- and players -- in the program's storied history.
Troyer, bound for Div. II Ohio Dominican University next season on scholarship -- had 13 points and nine steals for the Hawks while Schlabach and McMillen shared scoring honors with 14 each. Michaelina Terranova led the Blue Jays, which closed its season at 22-4, with five points.
"It's such an awesome feeling to be going back to the state tournament after last year's disappointing loss," Angela Troyer said. "I struggled to get in the flow offensively early on, but we have so many other girls who can score that it takes the pressure off me. When I'm not scoring I know I can still play defense and rebound."
Hiland has won four state titles in Dave Schlabach's 26 years (582-89 record) on the bench, and 22 consecutive Inter-Valley Conference championships, but redeeming themselves following last year's disappointing regional semifinal loss was the single-most motivating factor in the Hawks' juggernaut-type run this season to Columbus, according to Schlabach.
"There hasn't been a day that has went by that we haven't thought about that loss (to Lake Ridge Academy in which the Hawks were 1 of 27 on 3-pointers), and how it happened," Schlabach said. "But, we had to change a few things going into this season, too. We have size in the post, which we haven't had for quite a few years, with Tiffany Weaver (6-foot-1) and Melissa Hostetler (6-0), and we made it a point of emphasis to include the low post as part of our offense this off-season. We didn't want a repeat of what happened last year."
There wasn't much chance of that happening on Saturday.
Hiland's defense dismantled J-M in the game's opening quarter, with a mix of full and half-court pressure that pulled the spirit right out of the Blue Jays. Not only did Hiland score at a blistering pace in building a 21-6 advantage, it seldom allowed J-M's guards to get into its transition offense. The Blue Jays committed 12 first-quarter turnovers, and 23 for the game.
"I thought we were a little tight in our game on Thursday, but I could see it in our girls' eyes that they were relaxed and focused from the start tonight," Schlabach said. "
After Terranova gave the Blue Jays a quick 3-0 lead on a deep 3-pointer from the corner, it was all Hawks after that. Schlabach scored eight points in the opening quarter, including a pair of 3-pointers. Hiland kept its foot on the pedal in the second period as well, as the Hawks drained 5 of 8 3-point attempts in building a 35-9 lead at the break.
Sara Keim got into the act in the third period, as the Hiland junior connected on a pair of 3-pointers as the Hawks built a 40-12 advantage with 5:12 left, then stretched the margin to 52-14 heading to the final period.
"Our kids work so long, and so hard together, that it's very enjoyable to watch them have this type oFsuccess," Schlabach said. "It's a very unselfish group that is willing to make the extra pass, and our girls really got after it defensively, too. A lot of different girls contributed tonight."
Hiland built its biggest of the lead of the night midway through the final period at 63-16 before Schlabach emptied his bench to a rousing standing ovation from the Hiland faithful that turned Perry's gymnasium into a sea of red.
"I was awesome knowing in the fourth quarter that we were headed to the state tournament," Troyer said. "It was great to enjoy those last minutes on the bench with my teammates. We've worked so hard and have had a great season, but we don't want it to come to an end yet.
"We'll be excited to get (to Columbus) on Thursday."
Hiland made 20 of its 46 shot attempts (43 percnt), and 9 of 18 from beFond the arc. J-M canned 8 of 22 shots (36 percent), while the Hawks held a commanding 33-24 advantage on the boards with Melissa Hostetler leading the Hawks with six and Jessica Troyer adding five.