BYESVILLE - River has never beaten Hiland in boys' basketball as the Hawks hold a 4-0 all-time advantage.
Three of those contests have come in Division IV District Tournament semifinal action, including the last two seasons when Hiland went on to capture back-to-back state championships. The other was in 2007, while the Hawks also claimed a victory earlier this season in Holmes County.
"We know they are always very good," River head coach Mark Romick said of Hiland. "They aren't back-to-back state champions for nothing."
RIVER’S CODY Caldwell eyes the basket during last week’s Division IV?District Tournament semifinal against Shadyside. He will lead the Pilots into today’s District Championship Game at Meadowbrook High School.
This might be the Pilots best shot at dethroning the two-time defending state titlists. River will enter today's 1 o'clock Eastern District Tournament final at Meadowbrook High School with an 18-7 mark, while the Hawks check in at 20-6.
"It's no surprise that River (is here)," veteran Hiland head coach Mark Schlabach said Friday morning via the telephone. "We expected them to (be here). We just weren't sure if we'd (be here)."
The Hawks have beaten Caldwell (59-43), Tuscarawas catholic Central (36-30) and Malvern (56-51 OT) to reach the district final.
Graduation wiped out four-fifths of the Hawks starting lineup from a year ago, including standouts Seger Bonifant (West Liberty University) and Dylan Kaufmann (University of Findlay).
"We only return one player that saw a lot of time last season," Schlabach said of 6-1 junior guard Todd Ropp, who leads the Hawks with 13-point and 7-rebound norms.
Only one other junior dots the starting lineup, that being 6-0 junior guard Jordan Yoder. The remaining starters are 5-11 sophomore guard Eric Miller and freshmen Brady Schlabach (5-6 guard) and Dennis Chupp (6-4 center). Schlabach is the nephew of his head coach.
Coming off the Hawks deep bench is the lone senior on the squad in 6-0 center Jordan Beachy; juniors Lucas Mast (6-0 guard) and Josh Phillips (5-11 guard; and sophomores Brennan Coil (6-3 center) and Collin Blochlinger (6-3 guard).
"We play about 10 kids a game," Schlabach, who has a sparkling career record of 123-27 in 20 seasons, noted. "We've only have one double figure scorer, so we're not as high scoring as we have been in past years."
The Hawks defeated the Pilots 51-42 back on Dec. 22, but Schlabach said to not put much stock into that contest.
"That game was really early in the season, and I don't think either one of us played our best game," Schlabach added. "Especially for them because of the long trip."
River has defeated Zanesville Bishop Rosecrans (36-31), Bridgeport (64-35) and Shadyside (44-35) en route to the district final.
The Pilots are led by Brett Price with an even 20-point-a-game norm. The 6-2 senior was named the Eastern District Player of the Year and a sure-fire all-state selection.
"Brett's a gamer," Romick said. "He seems to rise up at key points of big games."
Price leads the Pilots in three-point goals with 64.
Joining Price in double figures is classmate Cody Caldwell, the Pilots' quarterback during football season. The 6-1 guard averages 10.8 a game. He has knocked down 53 bonus bombs.
"Cody can fill it up when he's on," Romick noted.
Rounding out the starting five are seniors Matt Marconi (5-10 guard), Jordan Indermuhle (6-4 center) and Kam Brown (6-0, guard). Marconi nets 8.2 points a night, while Indermuhle adds 8.0 and Brown 2.6. Marconi has hit 26 three-pointers, while Indermuhle is the leading rebounder with nearly 10 a game. Brown is the lock-down defender and usually draws the toughest assignment.
"We know River is going to play physical," Schlabach noted. "Rebounding is going to be a key because they are much bigger and physical than we are, but they've also got some kids that can shoot it from the outside."
Coming off the River bench are seniors Chad Isaly (5-9 guard) and Evan Eggleston (6-3 center); and junior Eric Dierkes (6-0 guard/forward).
"Our seniors have been to the district all four years," Romick said. "Hopefully, this is the year we take it a step further."
Today's winner advances to regional action at the Canton Memorial Fieldhouse on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. where it will meet the Struthers District winner, which saw Wellsville defeat Youngstown Christian, xx-xx, Friday night. The regional final is set for Friday in Canton.
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