Hiland Holds Back River
CAMBRIDGEThe cliche that all good things must come to an end reared its ugly head once again Friday evening.
Much to the chagrin of the River basketball team and its droves of fans that made the trip to Cambridge High School and the Gene Ford Gymnasium, the most successful season in Pilots’ hoops history came to a close a few victories short of achieving the ultimate goal.
Never fully able to get into an offensive rhythm because of relentless, physical defense applied by a talented and red-hot Hiland club, River found itself on the short end of a 42-29 score in the Division IV Eastern District Championship Game.
“We knew it was going to be a physical affair, but we had some good looks (at the bucket) and just couldn’t get some shots to go down,” a disappointed Mark Romick said shortly after addressing his team for the final time. “You realize, when you get to this point, how fine a line there is between winning, losing and finding a way to get to the next level. The little things do make a difference.
The physical, defensive mindset was actually the approach River utilized all season. Unfortunately, the Hawks were just a bit better in both meetings.
“I thought we played excellent defense, but we just couldn’t do anything on the offensive end,” Romick said. “Their pressure was really good and it got to us. This game as a lot more physical than the game we played them at home. The officials let them play, which probably doesn’t favor us because we’re limited in our ball handling.”
Like so many teams, Hiland’s defensive approach was try to limit Pilot senior Lukas Isaly as much as possible, but also make River’s supporting players become the difference.
Isaly, who was named the Eastern District’s Player of the Year and an all-Ohio candidate, finished with 24, including all 15 of his team’s points in the second half.
Only John Murphy and Cody Hupp found their way into the scoring column for a River squad, which played without the services of senior Drew Dietz due to injury.
River found itself down, 11-8, after one and had the lead twice in the second quarter, but only by a point each time. Hiland closed the half with the final four for a 17-14 lead at the break.
“I thought we were amped up early, but did a nice job of settling down and coming back,” Romick said. “We had some open looks in the first half. At halftime, the kids were upset, but it was just a tale of two halves.”
In the third quarter, the Pilots’ offensive woes continued, while on the other end of the floor, the Hawks started to get it going. Scott Troyer scored eight of his 12 in the third and Andy Miller had four points as well.
All told, Hiland outscored River, 12-4, in the period to take a 29-18 lead into the final quarter.
“Once Hiland gets the lead on you, they’re really a handful,” Romick said. “They’re a lot like us, but with more ball handlers. We’re tough to come back on because we have a guy who can handle the ball and shoots 85 percent from the line. Hiland is the same way. It’s a chore, and I thought we battled them.”
River had some chances in the fourth to narrow the gap. Isaly hit his lone 3-pointer of the game, making it 31-25, but senior Damien Kandel was all alone behind the River defense for an easy layup.
Junior Kendall Hochstetler recorded his lone field goal of the game after the teams traded several empty possessions.
At that point, the Pilots weren’t only playing the Hawks, but the clock was also an adversary.
“When we weren’t able to cut into it after those possessions at 33-25, they threw over us in the press and we were really fighting up hill from there,” Romick said.
The loss ends Isaly’s brilliant prep career with 2,172 points, which is the all-time mark in River history. Isaly’s evening ended early when he fouled out with just over two minutes remaining.
“Hiland had a great game plan and deserves all the credit in the world,” Isaly said. “It was a physical game and we knew how good they were. We had a good gameplan, but it was hard to execute. They had a good plan against me to stop me from scoring. Give them all of the credit. It was a good run for us.”
Hiland, which now heads to the Division IV regional on Tuesday at the Convocation Center on the campus of Ohio University in Athens, was led by Troyer’s 12. Junior Kobe Troyer, who had the hot hand early with two first-quarter treys, also finished with 12. Miller added 11.
As much as the loss stings, Romick did find the composure to accentuate many of the positives his team accomplished this winter, including a school-record, 24 wins and the school’s first OVAC championship since the 70s as well as the berth in the district final.
“These kids worked their butts off all season,” Romick said. “These kids did what they could. They brought it every night defensively and never gave up.”
Pilots Catch Tigers By The Tail
The River Pilots’ Lukas Isaly surpassed Jensen Caretti as the school’s all-time leading scorer en-route to a thrilling 61-54 victory over the Strasburg Tigers March 6. The match-up occurred inside a packed Meadowbrook High School Gymnasium as part of the Ohio Division IV Eastern District semi-final.
Even though the Pilots were seeded third in their district, and holding a 23-1 record, not to many people gave the Pilots a chance in the Ohio playoffs. However, the Pilots defeated the top-seeded Strasburg Tigers.
It looked as if the game would be a low-scoring affair as Strasburg was only allowing 37 points a game and would cling to a 13-8 first quarter lead with Isaly scoring his only points in the quarter from beyond the arc.
Pilot John Murphy kept his team within striking distance by scoring two points and a conventional three-point play, heading into the second stanza.
River senior Cody Hupp used a conventional three-point play to begin the second period, while Stone Thompson came off the bench to net a pair of three-pointers. Murphy scored another two points to keep the game close, 20-17.
After a rare Isaly miss from the charity stripe, Strasburg’s Mike Neidenthal scored a three-point play. Hupp them scored another two points, giving the Pilots a 21-20 lead right before the break. However, Neidenthal was fouled and made his second of two free throws, evening things up at 21-21.
Isaly had only scored a triple in the opening half, but teammates Murphy, Hupp, and Thompson picked up 18 points. Senior Drew Dietz left the game in the first period, due to aggravating an injury suffered in the sectional final.
“Stone Thompson did a super job off the bench; John Murphy had a great game against some really nice post players, and Cody Hupp shows up every night,” said River Head Coach Mark Romick. “In the last two games, Lukas has put up huge numbers and people think we’re a one-trick pony, but this game shows we’re not.”
Jacob Farthing, who launched a pair of three-pointers in the first quarter for the Tigers, opened the second half with another; teammate Race King netted his only bucket of the night to give the Tigers a 26-21 lead.
However, with Isaly still being bottled up by a stingy Strasburg defense, Murphy and Thompson gave the Pilots the lead. Murphy scored a pair of conventional three-point plays, while Thompson scored from long-distance, giving the Pilots a lead they never relinquished, 30-26.
The Tigers scored two points and quickly called a time-out; however, after the shot break, Isaly started to heat up, swishing back-to-back triples to push the Pilots lead to 36-28.
Afterwards, King converted a pair of free throws, while Neidenthal sank three of his own when he was fouled at the buzzer behind the arc, shrinking the deficit to 39-35.
Isaly scored a pair of triples and was 3-of-4 from the free throw line, while Murphy followed with a pair of deuces and was 2-2 at the line in the period.
Isaly swished one of two from the free throw line where he was 7-8 in the period to open the fourth period. After a pair of freebies by Neidenthal, the Pilots’ Colton Lawrence came off the bench to tack on a two-pointer.
After a Strasburg deuce, the Pilots called a timeout, and Isaly came through with a two-pointer.
“At the end of the third quarter, Lukas looked at our bench and said, ‘We’re fine,'” Romick said. “That’s the kind of leadership he provides. The other kids look at him and think, ‘You’re right. We’re fine.’ They just draw from him.”
In the fourth quarter, despite facing stiff Strasburg pressure, Isaly scored 18 of his game-high 29 points and became River’s all-time leading scorer – regardless of gender – in school history.
“We talked all week that other guys had to step up and I have confidence in all of these guys ability to score,” stated Isaly after the game. “Stone, John and Cody all played a heck of a game. Whether it was Stone hitting three-pointers or John and Cody getting buckets underneath, they all played (great). Hopefully, we see it again the next game, too.”
The Tigers would get as close as two points with 3:28 left on the clock, but the River Pilots’ student body showed up and willed the Pilots on. Isaly didn’t disappoint, scoring a pair of free throws and a two-point shot, while Murphy sank two more freebies to push thelead back to 55-47.
Isaly finished all the scoring with a conventional three-point play with 26 seconds left for the final points.
The tough Strasburg defense that has been holding teams to under 40 points a game, gave up 61, while the Pilots’ defense held an outstanding outside shooting Tigers to 9-30 shooting in the second half that proved to be a major factor in their victory.
With the win, the Pilots’ record improved to 23-1 with the team’s only loss coming from Hiland, the team they would face in the district final Friday evening.
Strasburg coverage by Bruce Crawford.