COLUMBUS, Ohio — The state championship may be decided in Columbus, but as of late — the D-4 girls title goes through Berlin.
The Eastern girls basketball team will face the toughest of tests in its inaugural trip to the Schottenstein Center Friday afternoon when the Lady Eagles face perennial-power Berlin Hiland in a Division IV state semifinal at Value City Arena on the campus of the Ohio State University in Franklin County.
The Lady Eagles (23-4) — who picked up their first regional crown in program history last weekend in Pickerington — will be making their state debut against a team that has been the definition of a state power since the turn of the millennium.
The Lady Hawks (25-3) will be making their 13th trip overall to the Final Four, including their ninth appearance since 2000 and their eighth trip in the last 10 years. Hiland has won four state crowns (2000, 2005, 2006 and 2008) and has also amassed a 12-8 overall mark in its previous 12 trips to the state level.
In fact, the Lady Hawks — which finished the year ranked second in the final AP poll — will have as much state experience as a program than the other three competitors combined this weekend. They are also the only one of the four state qualifiers to ever win a state championship.
Hiland — located in the heart of Amish Country in Holmes County — has been the standard-bearer for success in Division IV since 2000. In their eight trips to state during that span, the Lady Hawks won state titles four times and advanced to the state title game seven times. In the four trips that they didn’t win state, the Red, Black and White ended up losing to the eventual state champion.
HHS went unbeaten (14-0) en route to this year’s Inter-Valley Conference crown and enters Columbus on a seven-game winning streak. The Lady Hawks — as a team — are averaging 59.7 points per game offensively while allowing 32.1 points defensively.
Hiland — which prides itself on relentless defensive pressure — has suffered just three losses this season. Those setbacks came against Twinsburg (49-45), Wooster (65-59) and Wadsworth (61-37) — all Division I programs. The Lady Hawks are coached by Dave Schlabach, who has amassed a 483-77 overall record in 22 years with the program.
The Lady Hawks — who have only three seniors on their roster — have a trio of players averaging double digits each night out. Junior guard Regina Hochstetler (17.7 ppg) and senior guard Kendra Schlabach (10.0 ppg) lead a formidable 1-2 punch in the backcourt, while sophomore forward Megan Beachy (9.9 ppg) is the main scoring threat in the frontcourt.
Junior guard Emily Yoder (6.3 ppg) and senior forward Jasmine Goings (6.1 ppg) complete the collective starting five for HHS. The Lady Hawks — who also have some depth coming off the bench — have only two players standing taller than 5-foot-9 on their current roster.
The Lady Eagles, on the other hand, have suffered losses to Orrville, Huntington Saint Joseph, Waterford and Jackson this season. Only Jackson failed to make it past the district tournament level, while Orrville and St. Joe each reached the state tournament in their respective divisions. Eastern also has a win over state qualifier Fort Frye.
EHS coach John Burdette has amassed a 93-27 overall mark in his five seasons with the Lady Eagles, which also includes three of the program’s five regional appearances.
History also seems to favor the Region 15 champion at the state tournament, as six of the last eight Division IV champions have come from the Pickerington bracket. In fact, only four times since the 2000 campaign has the Pickerington regional champion failed to make it to the state final.
The Eastern-Hiland contest will tip-off at 1 p.m. Friday.
In the second D-4 semifinal, the Ottoville Lady Green (27-0) and Fort Loramie Lady Redskins (25-3) will face off at 3 p.m. for a spot in the state championship game. Ottoville finished the year as the top-ranked team in the AP poll, while Fort Loramie ended the season as the seventh-ranked team in the state.
Ottoville — coached by Dave Kleman (400-95 in 21 seasons) — will be making its fifth Final Four appearance in program history, which includes one state runner-up finish in 2005. OHS, which averages 60.1 points per game while allowing 31.3 defensively, lost to Hiland in overtime in its one championship game appearance.
Senior center Abby Siefker — the D-4 AP state player of the year — leads the Lady Green with a 17.0 points per game average. Senior Rachel Beining (11.9 ppg), junior Taylor Mangas (8.0 ppg), senior Rachel Turnwald (7.8 ppg) and senior Nicole Vorst (5.3 ppg) complete the collective starting five for OHS.
Fort Loramie — coached by Carla Siegel (272-88 in 14 years) — will be making its seventh Final Four appearance in program history, which includes a pair of runner-up efforts in 2011 and 1997. FLHS averages 65.0 points per game while allowing 38.4 points defensively.
Junior forward Darian Rose leads the Fort Loramie attack with an 18.0 points per game average, while junior center Renae Meyer (8.7 ppg) and senior forward Paige Ordean (6.0 ppg) serve as the second and third scoring options. Freshman guard Jessica Boerger (5.4 ppg) and junior guard Meg Westerheide (3.5 ppg) complete the collective starting five for the Lady Redskins.
The winners of these two contests will advance to Saturday’s Division IV championship game at 5:15 p.m.