JERSEY SHORE - Before Thursday's game against Milton, Jersey Shore forward Zach Miller said his teammates rarely listened when he spoke.
So when Milton built an early 7-point lead last night, Miller yelled. He yelled so loud, in fact, the entire gym heard Miller imploring the Bulldogs to play harder.
And they listened.
Jersey Shore’s Zach Miller loses control of the ball as he tries to shoot around Milton’s Travis Krall in the fourth quarter on Thursday night in Jersey Shore. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com
Miller and Ryan Eck formed a strong inside duo, the team unselfishly moved the basketball and Stephen Baier was huge off the bench as Jersey Shore defeated the defending District 4 Class AAA champions, 62-47. The win was a big one, putting Jersey Shore (9-7, 6-3 HAC-I) just two wins away from reaching the postseason for the first time in five years.
"We came out a little slow and it got me a little fired up and I wanted everyone else to know you need to play above their abilities and turn it up," Miller said. "It's do or die and you have to go hard if you want to win. We started doing that and we just kept rolling."
Miller did more than talk, too. The senior forward scored a game-high 18 points, grabbed six rebounds, dealt four assists and added three steals. Miller was especially crucial in the third quarter when the Bulldogs started pulling away, turning a 3-point halftime lead into a 10-point advantage.
Miller had six points, three assists and three rebounds that quarter and Milton (9-8, 4-5) never pulled within single digits again. After Miller delivered his declaration, the Bulldogs never slowed down. They hit 8 of 12 second-quarter shots, played well in all facets and never trailed following Brody Smith's 3-point play two minutes into the second quarter.
"Usually they don't listen to me but I guess I put a lot more fire into them tonight," Miller said. "We haven't been working as well as a team as we did tonight and we got it done. It's real easy to win when we do that because we have good players all over the court."
Miller and Eck were double trouble inside. Eck, an imposing 6-foot-7 center, scored 16 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked four shots. Jersey Shore efficiently worked the ball inside and had 19 assists, five each coming from Baier and Eric Huling. Those two had seven assists in the second quarter when the Bulldogs started asserting themselves.
"I like that (sixth man) role," Baier said. "It feels really good to give the team a boost."
Baier did that specifically with his defense. Wade Heidel was unstoppable early, scoring 10 points in the game's first three minutes while hitting his first four shots. Jersey Shore coach Harvey Barnhart then inserted Baier and the senior stuck to Heidel like glue, letting him score only four more points and attempt six more shots.
Baier missed a few games with an injury but showed how important he is last night, grabbing five rebounds as well as consistently setting up teammates for good shots.
"I knew I could play tough defense on him and I knew I had help defense," Baier said. "that helps a lot knowing I can trust my teammates and trust my defense."
"His defense definitely was the biggest key to the game. That kid was scoring at will and then Stephen Baier came in and shut him down," Miller said. "He always hustles. I love Baier. He's back in now and he's a really big help."
Milton appeared fatigued later after playing for the fifth time in seven nights. Still, point guard Ethan Baker played another strong game, scoring 14 points, dealing five assists and making three steals a night after scoring 39 points in a big win over Mifflinburg.
Heidel finished with 14 points while Shawn Rishel had eight rebounds off the bench. A Logan Feltman 3-pointer and Baker drive pulled Milton with 52-40 with three minutes remaining but the Bulldogs clinched the game at the foul line, hitting 8 of 10 shots. Cody Confair (8 points, 5 rebounds) made six straight.
"Jersey Shore played a good game and was really fired up and I told my guys that was a show of respect because you're doing such a good job and they wanted to get a piece of you," Milton first-year coach Gene Bruno said. "Jersey Shore played a real good game, but our guys still played very hard."
Ethan Baker 5 2-2 14, Travis Krall 3 0-0 7, Wade Heidel 6 1-1 14, Logan Feltman 2 0-0 5, Brady Chappell 0 0-0 0, KJ Williams 1 0-0 2, Shawn Rishel 2 0-0 5, Ryan Emery 0 0-0 0, Michael Cooper 0 0-2 0. Totals 19 3-5 47.
JERSEY SHORE (62)
Zach Miller 8 2-4 18, Ryan Eck 8 0-3 16, Cody Confair 1 6-6 8, Eric Huling 2 3-4 8, Brody Smith 3 1-1 7, Stephen Baier 2 0-0 5, Jake Betzler 0 0-0 0, Brennan Eiswerth 0 0-0 0. Totals 24 12-18 62.
Milton18 11 9 9-47
Jersey Shore14 18 16 14-62
3-pointers: Milton 6 (Baker 2, Krall, Heidel, Feltman, Rishel); Jersey Shore 2 (Huling, Baier).
Records: Jersey Shore 9-7, 6-3 HAC-I. Milton 9-8, 4-5.
JV Score: Milton 60-59