BYESVILLE - You would have had to have been there to believe it.
Heads on both sides of the gymnasium at Meadowbrook High School were shaking at halftime, and after Wednesday's Division IV Eastern District semifinal between Shadyside and Hiland in front of a near-capacity crowd.
The Tigers came into the game with the spotless record and watched as the perennial district power Hawks soared out to a commanding 23-point lead at one juncture in the first half and eventually held what seemed like an insurmountable 18-point lead.
PHOTO BY PAUL KRAJNYAK
Shadyside’s Ellis Brown soars to the basket over a Hiland defender during Wednesday night’s district victory.
''All we talked about at halftime was playing our game,'' Shadyside coach Ed Andes said. ''Obviously, we didn't want to be down 18 to a quality team, but we just weren't guarding anyone in the first half.''
The message evidently hit home.
Shadyside - for the second time in three games - cranked up the defensive pressure and used the never-say-die attitude that comes with a veteran-laden club to dramatically pull out a 55-50 victory against the shocked Hawks.
''We could get nothing easy in the second half,'' a dejected Hiland coach Mark Schlabach said. ''We got some easy ones in the first half, but Shadyside did a really good job of making it tough and making us work pretty hard on every possession.''
With their backs planted firmly against the wall, the Tigers, who didn't even spend a timeout during Hiland's first-half runs of 15-2 in the first quarter and 12-4 in the second, had the opening possession of the third quarter and tallied on a Heath Brooks bucket.
''There were a couple of times when I was just about to call (a timeout), but there are times when you need the kids to pull through something like that,'' Andes said. ''I've got unbelievable confidence in these kids, and for some reason they're able to pull through it.''
On the ensuing Tigers possession senior Justin Andes, who was recently named Eastern District Player of the Year, buried a 3-pointer. Senior Dylan Kimble, who played tireless defense for nearly the entire 32 minutes on Hiland's highly regarded sophomore Dylan Kaufmann, came up with a steal and went in for a layup before Nick Schuetz then buried a trey. For the first time since the score was 16-9 in the first quarter, the Tigers had shrunk the deficit to less than 10 at 40-32.
''Our third-quarter defense was unbelievable to me,'' Andes said. ''Obviously, I knew we'd play better in the third quarter, but to hold Hiland scoreless in the quarter is just unreal. It's a real tribute to our kids.''
Shadyside continued to score and score as the Hawks were continually harassed by the Tigers' defense and continually misfired.
''When you're making shots, your defense gets better and it worked the opposite for us in the first half,'' Andes said.
The Tigers had clawed within three at 40-37 as Hiland missed on a shot late in the third. A lengthy outlet pass landed in the hands of Justin Andes who swished a trey from well beyond NBA range with less than 10 seconds to play to knot the game.
Schlabach couldn't pinpoint a time when any team he's coached has been blanked in a quarter.
''When I was at Loundonville, we were in the state semifinal and had two points in a quarter,'' he said. ''It's just a credit to Shadyside's defense and the effort their kids gave.''
Brooks put the Tigers on top for the first time since it was 7-6 when he scored off a sweet pass from Andes to open the fourth. After Kaufmann knotted it at the line, Schuetz recorded a foul shot and Brooks scored again, making it 45-42 Tigers.
However, the Hawks weren't done just yet.
Hiland scored the next five points. Kaufmann meshed two more at the line and Luke Burch converted a conventional three-point play, which made it a 47-45 Hawks' advantage.
The lead didn't last long as Andes again delivered a crisp pass to an open Tyler Cline who laid it in before Boyd got his lone bucket of the second half to give Hiland its final lead at 49-47.
Andes, who led all scorerswith 15 points, buried a trey to make it 50-49. Hiland sank 1 of 2 at the line to knot the game with a little more than a minute to go.
''Justin and Nick both hit huge shots,'' Andes said. ''Justin's shot at the end of the third and Nick's 3 late in the game were big.''
Schuetz, who had struggled some with his shot in the contest, connected on a 3-pointer from the left wing, putting Shadyside up 53-50 with 1:05 to go. He finished with 14, including two foul shots to ice the game.
Brooks turned in another solid night at the office with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Kimble scored only four points, but he limited Kaufman to eight and only one field goal.
Boyd led the Hawks with 14 points and 10 of those came in the first quarter. Jason Miller canned a trio of treys for nine.
Shadyside held a 38-29 edge on the boards and was able to overcome 15 turnovers, which was five more than the Holmes County squad.
The Tigers will return at 1 p.m. Saturday for a tip against Zanesville Rosecrans, which dispatched Malvern in Tuesday's semifinal. The Tigers own a pair of regular-season victories against the Bishops already.