Dragons beat Hiland to get first state tournament trip since 1961
ATHENS — At the beginning of the season, the focus for the Fairland Dragons was to get the “job done” according to the Dragons’ head coach Nathan Speed. And they took another step Saturday night with a 61-47 win over the Hiland Hawks to win the Division III Athens regional final and earn a berth in the OHSAA state final four.
“This feels great. Going to school here (a 1993 graduate of Fairland), teaching here and being lucky enough to always coach here, it is hard to put into perspective right now” Speed said.
“Hiland is a very good team, they get up and down the floor really well with tons of shooters and guys that can score” Speed said. “Our kids deserve a lot of credit for their defense tonight.”
Fairland (24-1) will play at 10:45 a.m. on Friday in the state semifinals at the Ohio State University Schottenstein Center in the Value City Arena.
Making its first state tournament appearance since 1961, Fairland players Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph who downed West Salem Northwestern 70-51.
After a slow start trailing 14-11 after the first quarter and early in the second, Fairland started the comeback that culminated with a Gunner Short basket to give the Dragons the lead for good at 21-20 at the 1:05 mark of the second quarter resulting in a Hiland timeout.
After a Hiland miss, Ty Staten grabbed an offensive rebound from an Isaiah Howell miss to make the score 23-20 at the half.
“It was a big confidence thing (going into halftime with a lead) shooting wise. We had several times in the second quarter where we were missing shots and it is easy to start thinking this just isn’t our night” said Speed.
“But confidence wise, it was big because the kids realized they were getting to the rim and getting good shots offensively and everything was fine.
“You could see our guys intensity increase.”
After trading baskets early in the third quarter, Fairland went on a 9-0 run with Luke Thomas scoring seven points and Gunner Short adding five to extend the lead to 41-27 heading into the final period.
“We just wanted to have fun. It was a big game and not many people get to experience this; so we wanted to give our all, play as hard as we can because it could be our last game of the year” Fairland junior guard Luke Thomas said.
“Fortunately the ball bounced in my favor tonight, and it will probably be someone else next week”.
“Our guys realize that when someone is hot and they go to them. That is the biggest thing this year is how unselfish our kids are. We’ve got guys sacrificing minutes, points and starting jobs. It’s just a great team” Speed said.
Fairland would lead by as many as 15-points two minutes into the fourth quarter before Hiland (22-4) went on a 7-0 run within one minute to cut the lead to 46-36 with 5:16 to play on layups by Scott Troyer and Andrew Miller and Fairland called a timeout.
“We just needed to calm down a little bit, and we had just been on a run and started thinking every shot was going in and rushing shots in a time when we didn’t need to rush” Speed said. “Then, defensively we weren’t sprinting back and gave them several good looks in a row.”
The timeout worked to perfection, as Thomas found Howell and Short for layups on backdoor passes to spark a 19-9 run to set the final score at 61-47 and head to Columbus next week for the school’s second straight trip to the Final Four after the Fairland Lady Dragons appearance last year.
After a loss to eventual state semi-finalist Lynchburg-Clay to end the season last year, Speed and Thomas said the maturity of the team as a whole is the difference this year.
“I think it was a maturity thing, and that’s something we really wanted to focus on this year” Speed said. “Being in that situation last year, the maturity allowed us to not worry about who was taking the shots and everyone just doing their job.”
“A lot of it is maturity from last year to this year. We were a young team last year, so it was difficult because we were playing 17-18 year-olds who are mentally more prepared,” Thomas said. “We talked about it all summer, being more mature and controlling the game.”
Heading to the state tournament is something that Thomas and his teammates have been working toward for several years.
“It hasn’t kicked in yet, just thinking is this really happening. We’ve all talked about (going to the final four), my teammates and coaches since we were in sixth grade. We just always try to play hard and play together every time we are out on the floor” said Thomas.
Hiland 14 6 7 20 = 47
Fairland 11 12 18 20 = 61
HILAND (22-5): Scott Troyer 4 0 2-2 10, Andrew Miller 4 1 2-2 13, Turner Horn 3 0 2-2 8, Kobe Troyer 0 2 0-0 6, Noah Summers 1 0 0-3 2, John Sisson 0 0 0-0 0, Claye Hummel 0 0 0-0 0, Jared Raber 0 0 0-0 0, Christopher Kline 1 1 0-0 5, Damien Kandel 0 0 0-0 0, Kendall Hochstetler 0 1 0-0 3. Totals: 13-5 6-9 47. 3-point goals: 5-17. Rebounds: O-7, 23-D = 30. Steals: 6. Turnovers: 10. Assists: 6. Blocks: 2. Fouled Out: None.
FAIRLAND (24-1): Luke Thomas 7 3 1-2 24, Ty Staten 3 1 0-0 9, Gunner Short 5 1 1-2 14, Isaiah Howell 3 0 2-3 8, Kollin Van Horn 2 0 0-0 4, Joel Lambiotte 1 0 0-0 2, Austin Gartin 0 0 0-0 0, Keedrick Cunningham 0 0 0-0 0, Matt Mondlak 0 0 0-0 0, Dairus Stapleton 0 0 0-0 0, Chase Fisher 0 0 0-0 0, Ian Chinn 0 0 0-0 0, Andy Lange 0 0 0-0 0, Reilly Sowards 0 0 0-0 0. Totals: 21-5 4-7 61. 3-point goals: 5-16. Rebounds: 10-O, 27-D = 37. Steals: 6. Turnovers: 7. Assists: 12. Blocks: 4. Fouled Out: None.