Federal Hocking has made a habit of creating all-time classics at the Convocation Center over the past week.
Not every all-time battle ends up in victory however.
Federal Hocking’s magical season came to an end on Tuesday night after a back-and-forth slugfest that saw Hiland come out on top 55-51 after some late game heroics in the Regional Semi-Final.
“I kind of knew that was what it was going to be coming into this. Two quality basketball teams going at it head-to-head. I made the comment earlier today that I feel like it’s going to come down to whoever made the last shot. I’ll be damned if it didn’t.” Jonathan Thompson, the head coach of Federal Hocking said after the loss.
If there was ever a bad omen or sense of foreshadowing during the night, we saw it just after the opening tip-off. Alex Yoder, who would go on to give the Lancers problems all night inside the paint, grabbed a pair of offensive rebounds before putting in the opening score.
The 6’7 junior was an issue to deal with the entire game. Federal Hocking played admirably given the size differential down low but would often be the victim of back-breaking buckets from down low all night. The big man ultimately finished with 12 points and nine rebounds.
As Federal Hocking has done though all season, they were never really going to be out of it. The Lancers struggled offensively over the first few moments of the match and found themselves down 8-4 halfway through the opening frame.
They would instantly close the gap with back-to-back buckets from Andrew Airhart and Tariq Cottrill that tied the game up. The two, who had been key for the Lancers all season, ended up leading them one final time this season.
Airhart led all scorers on the night with 17 points while grabbing four rebounds. Cottrill on the other hand had 10 points while grabbing six rebounds and dishing out six assists.
Especially with such an important group of seniors walking away for the final time, the two are going to be invaluable to the success of the team next season as they now begin to figure out a way to get back this far.
Airhart broke the first-quarter tie with a pretty catch-and-shoot three-pointer off an inbounds play, giving the Lancers a slight lead. The junior guard would go on to score one more bucket in the first quarter to help give Federal Hocking a 13-10 lead after one quarter.
The break in action didn’t break his form either. Airhart started the second quarter with a bucket and then Iden Miller directly followed that up with a mid-range jumper from the corner. The senior finished his final game with 11 points and five rebounds.
This bucket gave the Lancers a seven-point advantage as it looked like Federal Hocking might just take control and run away with the match.
The fantasy of Federal Hocking grabbing a stranglehold on the game was quickly subdued as reality came to light. It was two fantastic teams playing against each other, there were going to be runs on each side regardless.
A couple of baskets started to cut at the lead but a three-pointer from Nicholas Wigton tied the game up at 17 apiece. Wigton then came down the floor and drilled another three-pointer to give the Hawks the lead once again. It was his only two shot attempts of the night.
Consecutive baskets from Cottrill and Miller would give the Lancers the lead once again for a moment before Sammy Detweiler quickly scored for Hiland to regain the lead. Detweiler would play a huge part in the rest of the game and ultimately finish with 16 points.
A last-second three-pointer from Scotty Balch fired up a seemingly home crowd for the Lancers and sent them into the locker room with a 25-24 lead after an exciting first 16 minutes of action.
It was more back-and-forth action to start the second half before Miller drilled a three-pointer to give Federal Hocking a four-point lead at the time. The Lancers then forced Hiland into a ten second violation, sending the crowd into a frenzy as all the momentum seemed to be swinging towards Federal Hocking.
Momentum is fluid though.
Almost immediately after being called for the violation, the Hawks decided to go on a run. Detweiler tied the game up with a three-pointer and then Alexander Miller hit one himself shortly after to give them the lead.
A bucket with the foul from Iden Miller with just about five seconds left in the third quarter made it a 41-39 game heading into the fourth.
Hiland went on a quick 4-0 run to start the final quarter as Federal Hocking struggled to score early in the frame. The first points for the Lancers didn’t come until roughly five minutes left when Balch nailed a pair of free-throws. The senior would repeat the process again and cut the lead down to two.
Airhart tied the game up once again when he received an inbounds alley-oop on a well drawn out play.
Detweiler put the Hawks up by two as crunch time started to roll around but a three-pointer from Iden Miller gave Federal Hocking the lead with just under three minutes remaining.
Yoder, who had been kept under wraps for most of the game ever since the start of the night, showed up late and made some huge plays for the Hawks.
Immediately after the Lancers took the lead, Yoder then made a bucket through contact and was sent to the line. He missed the ensuing free throw but Hiland still had a one point lead with just about two minutes remaining.
Hiland started to play for possession at that point, but quickly turned the ball over after throwing it away. Caden Chapman then saw his driving layup go in-and-out of the basket with the Lancers down one as the Hawks grabbed the rebound.
Yoder grabbed a full-court pass to put the Hawks up 51-48 with around 30 seconds remaining.
The Lancers had the ball in the final seconds when Airhart drilled a catch-and-shoot three-pointer with 10 seconds left to tie the game up, sending the crowd at the Convocation Center into a boisterous applause.
“The support is great. That’s why I wanted to take a couple seconds coming off the floor, I told the kids I wanted them to come back out and acknowledge how much we appreciate everybody setting stuff up for us. Coming to support us, the pep rallies, the student section, everything that’s went on the last few days has been beyond amazing. It shows that we truly have a great backbone as far as our school and our program right now.”
The crowd quickly quieted though as Detweiler took the ball the length of the court and scored on a floater from the lane, giving Hiland a 53-51 lead with five seconds left.
The Lancers tried to run a last second play for Airhart, but the ball sailed through his hands and so did the hopes of Federal Hocking.
“They played their game. They get up on you on defense, they execute their offensive stuff. We tried to run our schemes and stuff at them to try and throw them off. For the most part it was successful,” Thompson noted. “I feel like we had a few mistakes late in the game that we didn’t capitalize on… at the end of the day, the kids fought. I told them coming out of here, I said, ‘When we come back in this locker room, win or lose, I want you to be able to look me dead in the eye and be able to say that you had nothing left to give… I feel like they did that.”
Despite the loss, the Lancers had their best season in half a century. They finished the year at 21-4 with their first District title in 50 years.
“That was our goal from day one. We came in and every one of the kids looked at me and said we want to win a District title. That was the main goal. To come in and accomplish that goal, it’s a speechless thing for all of us. I tried to bring words up in the locker room, telling them ‘don’t hold your heads down,’ and that kind of stuff, ‘be proud of what you accomplished.’ I feel like we finally set a spark in our school to where we might get kids to buy in and want to be a part of this program and perform at a high level like these kids have done all year long.”
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