COLUMBUS – The Division IV girls state basketball championship between Berlin Hiland and Columbus Africentric was a battle of old-school vs. new-school.
And it was the old-school that prevailed as Hiland knocked off defending D-IV champ and No. 1 ranked Africentric 44-37 at Ohio State’s Jerome Schottenstein Center.
The 2008 championship is the fourth state title for the small Holmes County school and its third in four years.
“We just want our kids to experience this, so its not about how many state championships we win but the next group and getting them to play to their potential,” said Hiland head coach David Schlabach, who has led the Lady Hawks to a 370-55 record in 17 seasons and all four championships.
The Lady Hawks had to earn their fourth title the hard way in come-from-behind fashion.
Africentric (25-2) jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead in the game before Hiland sophomore guard Hilary Weaver drained a three-pointer to cut the lead in half putting a temporary stop to the early bleeding.
“Hilary plays with a lot of confidence,” said Schlabach. “She played some great minutes for us today. She will gladly take the big shot when she can and if she misses one she’s ready to go again.”
No. 2 Hiland (27-1) got within one point on a Mykelia Mast lay-up off a fast break but Africentric went on a 9-0 run to go up 15-5 early in the second quarter.
Hiland was just 2-of-8 shooting in the first quarter and committed six turnovers.
“That wasn’t the ideal start we were looking for,” Schlabach said. “But we have been in that situation before and against good teams we might fall behind. The kids have been in this before. You have seniors who don’t panic and stick to the game plan.”
And Hiland found its game plan for the next two quarters as the Lady Hawks went on a 24-0 scoring run as Africentric suffered a deflating 13:07 scoring drought.
The Lady Nubians shot just 32 percent on 16-of-50 shooting for the game.
“During that stretch, (Hiland) just started knocking down shots and we couldn’t get the ball in the basket,” Africentric head coach Will McKinney said. “We were hitting some shot early on but then we just got flat.”
The Lady Nubians totaled just four points in the second and third quarters combined and went into the final frame down 32-17.
Senior guard and Division IV player of the year Tyeasha Moss got hot in the fourth quarter netting 10 of her team high 15 points in a last ditch effort for the Lady Nubians.
“I just thought it was my last game playing my senior year and I din’t want to lose, so that is what I was thinking about the whole time,” said Moss.
But Africentric’s 20 fourth quarter points were too little too late as Hiland built enough of a lead in the first three quarters to hold off a late game comeback.
Hiland committed just eight turnovers after coughing the ball up six times in the first quarter.
“I think when we came out at the beginning we were very flustered and not confident against their pressure,” senior guard Jena Stutzman said. “We all just got together and said that we needed to be fundamental, we needed to play as a team and be confident. Once we did that, we were fine.”
Stutzman paced Hiland with 14 points, including 11 in Hiland’s 24-0 run.
Weaver had eight points and three rebounds.
Starters Kristi Yoder and Katelyn Stuckey combined for 13 points and 10 rebounds in the post for the Lady Hawks.
“We believe in defense, rebounding and skill development and I thought all three of those had a huge factor in today’s game,” Schlabach said. “Ten kids played and they all played well and contributed.”
Junior forward Asher Harris had 7 points and 11 rebounds for the Lady Nubians.
Africentric out-rebounded Hiland 34 to 30, including 14 offensive boards, but consistently failed to convert on second chance opportunities.
“It was frustrating because in most cases Hiland doesn’t give up that many offensive rebounds – at all,” McKinney said.
“It was just a frustrating game all together. It was difficult for us to get into what we really wanted to get into.”
For Africentric, it was their second straight Division IV state final four in the school’s short five year history.
This season marks the fourth straight year Hiland and Africentric have met in the postseason tournament.
Hiland cruised past Africentric 64-40 in the regional semifinals in 2005 on the way to a state championship. In 2006, the Lady Hawks edged the Lady Nubians 40-36 en route to back-to-back state titles.
Africentric exacted its revenge last season, though, with a 52-36 win over the Lady Hawks in the regional finals before taking home the state championship.
“Losing last year stunk,” Stutzman said. “It just gave us a lot of motivation. Every year our goal is to win a state championship. We just worked hard no matter who we played and we knew defense and rebounding would win us a state championship and we did that.”
Said McKinney, “I love the rivalry. The Berlin Hiland-Africentric rivalry is really good for girls basketball, in particular, Division IV. Whenever you have two really good basketball teams and guaranteed excitement in the game, I think that’s fantastic for the game of girls basketball.”
Stutzman, a Division IV first team All-Ohio selection and Kent State recruit, became Hiland’s all-time leading scorer in the state semifinal win over New Riegel and this year’s state championship marks her third as a Lady Hawk.
“We feel like she can be player of the year in our Division and she played like it in the second half,” Schlabach said.
“Jena plays because she enjoys the game and that is why she has worked so hard at it. She is one of those kids that just loves to play basketball. When you enjoy it that much, it means you are playing for the right reasons.”