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Fort Frye gives an impressive try against top-ranked Hiland

Fort Frye’s Lexie Huck, right, handles the ball as Hiland’s Morgan Yoder defends during Wednesday’s regional semifinal girls basketball game at Cambridge. Hiland won, 46-39. (Photo by Jordan Holland)

CAMBRIDGE — When the Fort Frye girls basketball team moved up to Division III before the season, the first thing head coach Dan Liedtke thought of was Hiland.

Wednesday at Cambridge High School, the two elite girls basketball programs squared off in a regional semifinal contest with the top-ranked Hawks besting the fourth-ranked Cadets 46-39.

Fort Frye led by as many as 10 points in the first half and held a 39-38 advantage with 3:05 remaining in the game, but Hiland scored the final eight points to advance.

“Naturally, you hate to lose but they went out battling as hard as they could and put everything on the floor,” said Liedtke, whose team finished with a 22-2 record.

“I’m proud of how they battled. I don’t think anybody thought that we could hang with them like this. That’s one of the best teams in the state.”

Hiland’s post players, Zoe Miller and Kelsey Swihart, combined for 30 points. Miller had 17 and Swihart added 13. Morgan Yoder chipped in eight.

Fort Frye got 11 points from Liv Schneider, six each from Lexie Huck, Kenzie Dalton and Riley Medley and five apiece from Hannah Archer and Karlee Ross.

Dalton’s two 3-pointers in the first quarter helped the Cadets build an early 11-2 lead. Hiland answered with four straight points before Dalton, who tallied a game-high five assists, found Huck underneath for a layup to make it 13-6 after a quarter.

Fort Frye increased its lead to 10, 17-7, before Miller knocked down back-to-back 3s to get the Hawks within four. It was 19-16 when Medley’s basket and five straight points by Schneider put the Cadets back on top by 10, 26-16. Hiland, though, closed the half on a 10-0 run, with seven of those points coming from Swihart, to tie it up at 26-all.

“We felt really good at halftime,” said Hiland head coach Dave Schalbach. “To tie it up and for our kids to take a deep breath and get back to what we wanted to do was big.

“It was going to come down to whoever took the lead late.”

Miller opened the second half with a basket before assisting Brynn Mullett on a 3-pointer to give Hiland a 31-26 advantage. That made it a 15-0 Hiland run going back to the second period. Archer hit a free throw and Medley hit a pair to cut it to 31-29. Hiland led 34-31 with one quarter to play.

Baskets by Miller and Swihart stretched Hiland’s lead to five, 38-33, but Dalton found Ross open on the wing and Ross swished a 3-pointer to get the Cadets within two at the 6:05 mark. Three minutes later, Schneider knocked down a corner 3, off another Dalton assist, to put Fort Frye up one.

The Cadets got the stop they needed on the other end, but Swihart came up with the offensive board and put it back up and in for a 40-39 Hiland lead. In the final two minutes, Mullett, Yoder and Kyli Horn combined to go 6 for 6 at the foul line to ice the game.

“Dan does such an amazing job over there,” Schlabach said. “It seemed like every shot they took was going in. Give them a lot of credit. I feel very fortunate to get out with a win.”

Fort Frye outrebounded Hiland 25-19, with Archer, Huck and Dalton all grabbing six. Hiland, however, committed just seven turnovers while forcing 20.

Fort Frye earned its way to the Division IV state tournament a year ago, but didn’t get to play due to COVID-19. Returning nearly their entire roster this season, the Cadets had extremely high expectations. When they moved up to Division III, it was inevitable their journey back to state would have to go through Hiland. In the end, Fort Frye gave the Hawks all they could handle.

“These girls have had an outstanding run,” Liedtke said. “These last two seasons they’re 48-4. They made the Final Four, won the OVAC the last two seasons. A lot of success.

“I’m going to really miss my seniors. Those girls are gold. Gold. Not only with their work ethic and their leadership, but they’re such good kids. In the dictionary, if you look for the definition of team, it’s Fort Frye girls basketball. They created a lot of that and I hate to see them go.”

Jordan Holland can be reached at jholland@mariettatimes.com.

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