COLUMBUS - They were the defending state champions and they had two future Division II college players in the lineup.
Even with that going for them, it was stunning the way Berlin Hiland dominated play at Value City Arena here Saturday morning in whipping Jackson Center 68-36 to claim a second straight state title.
Jackson Center came in unbeaten and top-ranked in the final Associated Press poll, but No. 2 Hiland had every edge in becoming the first Division IV team to win back-to-back titles since now-defunct Columbus Wehrle finished the deed in 1990.
"It's daunting to think of that accomplishment and to do it without a LeBron James or O.J. Mayo on it," Hiland coach Mark Schlabach said after his club finished a 27-1 championship season.
The Hawks have no one to compare to a James or Mayo, but the trio of Co-Player of the Year Dylan Kaufman, Seger Bonifant and Neil Gingerich was plenty imposing.
Together, they combined for 47 points with 17 rebounds and seven blocks.
Bonifant, who is headed for West Liberty State University, had 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting and Findlay University-bound Kaufman added 17 points with three assists and two steals. Gingerich scored 12 with team highs of seven rebounds and six blocks.
Kaufman opened the game's scoring with a three-point play and Bonifant added seven straight points to help Hiland to a 15-2 start with 1:33 still to play in the first period.
Trey Elchert's 3-pointer narrowed the gap and Andy Hoyng, the other Division IV Co-Player of the Year, added two foul shots and a baseline reverse drive to start the second period to make it 15-9.
But the Tigers could never get closer than that.
Bonifant, who went 4-for-4 from 3-point range, hit two of those in the second period. Kaufman had a conventional three-point play and added a 3-point goal at the buzzer. In between, the Hawks were all over the Tigers in pushing the halftime margin to 36-16.
"One thing's for sure; we didn't play our game today," said former Upper Sandusky coach Scott Elchert, whose second stint at Jackson Center gives him 12 years total as Tiger head coach.
"A lot of that goes to Berlin Hiland," he said. "Their size no doubt bothered us a lot. But we had 13 turnovers, which is uncharacteristic of us. And we've been giving up 40 points a game coming in. They had 68 against us and 36 at halftime."
Jackson Center rallied from 15 points down to beat Columbus Africentric in Thursday's semifinal. But there was no rallying against Hiland. The Hawks outscored the Tigers by seven in the third period and won the battle of reserves down the stretch.
"One of the things I heard from our guys this week is they wanted to show how good of a defensive team they are," Schlabach said. "We held two teams down here under 40 points. That's pretty good."
Meanwhile, the Tigers weren't able to get the defensive success they had hoped.
"Those three big guys are extremely skilled," Elchert said. "They're 6-7, 6-7 and 6-5 and they have basketball bodies. We have confidence we can defend, but today, things had a snowball effect. We gave up points in transition and we had trouble scoring. One thing led to another."
Hoyng topped the Tigers with 15 points. Alex Meyer was next with seven.
THE STOPPER - Gingerich's six blocks Saturday gave him 13 for the state tournament and 88 for the season.
"God blessed me with height," Gingerich said. "That's one thing I can do. I'm not the quickest guy in the world but one thing can do is get blocks."
If opponents found that to be problematic, Kaufman offered a sobering thought. "Trying going up against that every day," he said.
WILLIMAN, WILLMAN HONORED - Old Fort graduate Steve Williman and Calvert coach Ted Willman were among several coaches honored at the state tournament Saturday.
Williman was named this year's Paul Walker Award winner. Named for the longtime Middletown coach who, at the time of his retirement in 1976 had the state record 695 victories, the award honors one top Ohio prep coach each year.
Williman has 510 career victories as head coach at Old Fort and Liberty-Benton. He was named Associated Press state Coach of the Year in 2007 and his 1995 Liberty-Benton team won the Division IV championship.
Willman was one of 15 coaches to receive the Bob Arnzen Award. The award honors coaches who have devoted 20 consecutive years or more service to the same school and for their loyalty and commitment to Ohio high school basketball.
Arnzen, the second-winningest coach of all time with 676 wins, spent 43 years as head coach at Delphos St. John's.