Milton girls putting emphasis on league title
Milton coach Aaron Slusser performed a terrific opening act when he led Milton to a suprising District 4 Class AAA championship in his rookie season four years ago.
Slusser’s Black Panthers followed that up with another district championship two years ago. But in neither of those seasons did Milton capture a league title. That was all right with Slusser, too. Five seasons on the sideline, though, has changed Slusser’s perspective.
Now he wants both. Milton entered Monday night with a chance to capture its first HAC-I championship. The Panthers entered in a three-way tie with Shamokin and Danville. It has been both a surprising, and turnaround, season for Milton and Slusser has a new appreciation for how difficult it is to capture league supremacy.
“I’ll be the first one to tell you the last couple years I’ve said winning the conference would be nice, but we want to win districts. But we want to win the conference and I will tell anyone winning the conference is harder than winning districts,” Slusser said. “It’s a grind for two months. In districts you might be looking at a three-game tournament at most and if you’re playing well there’s a good chance you’re going to be in it at the end. When it comes to conference you have to bring it every night and not just at home.”
Slusser makes a good point. Teams can heat up at the right time in districts just as NFL teams have the last few seasons to make darkhorse runs to the Super Bowl. His team in 2009 proved it, making a surprising run and upsetting higher-seeded teams in both the semifinals and the championship.
This season, Milton (12-9) has made a league title run the hard way. The Panthers opened their season 0-4, but never buckled and rallied to win 12 of their next 15 games while starting 10-2 in the league. This senior-laden team lost its league opener to Shikellamy, but soon turned their season around a year after going 6-16.
Milton highlighted its ascension by handing Danville its first league loss and then exacted revenge on Shikellamy before overcoming a 12-point deficit and winning at Danville, 39-38, 10 nights ago.
That has been Milton’s style. The closer and tougher the games, the better the Panthers have played. They have repeatedly rallied to win in the fourth quarter and have won five league games by 17 combined points.
“Honestly I think our confidence was down at the beginning of the season, but then once we got our first win and second win we realized we can actually do this and it just carried out through the other games,” senior forward Emily Baker said. “We kept fighting and we got a lot of big upsets, Danville twice and Shikellamy. Hard work pays off.”
Even when it has struggled mightily Milton has been able to overcome. It proved that last Tuesday when it made just one first-half shot but still erased a late four-point deficit and edged Jersey Shore, 27-23. It was the second time Milton rallied past the Bulldogs and it won those games by six combined points.
The team is as tough and resilient as it is talented. It also is close. The rotation features almost all seniors and this group has endured, rallied and enjoyed the journey together. Whatever the situation, the group is confident it will find a way to triumph.
“They trust each other and they like playing each other which is nice because we haven’t always had that,” Slusser said. “We’ve had teammates that couldn’t stand each other but these girls really like each other and they have confidence in each other.”
“It’s not even a team, it’s more like a family,” Baker said. “We do everything together. We go everywhere. We share the ball pretty well and it works for us
That has helped make this league grind a successful one.
1K FOR MARIA
Maria Morgan became the first Bucktail player ever to score 1,000 career points as a sophomore. The standout guard reached that milestone in last Monday’s 51-39 win over playoff-bound Galeton. Morgan needed only 40 games to reach 1,000 points, remarkable since every defense Bucktail plays is geared toward slowing her. Morgan is averaging 28.9 points per game but does more than just score, leading the team in assists and steals too.
Morgan had 30 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals the night she joined the 1,000-point club and had a hand in all 50 of her team’s points earlier this season against St. John Neumann. What Morgan has done is pretty phenomenal when one considers the company she is keeping. The only other area girls players to score 1,000 points by their sophomore year in the past 15 years are Kelly Mazzante and Tierney Pfirman.
Talk about an exclusive club.
STRONG IN DEFEAT
Allie Pagana put on a second-half show in Saturday’s 41-34 loss to Lewisburg. The junior guard scored 15 points, made eight steals and grabbed four rebounds while nearly willing Loyalsock all the way back from a 20-point deficit. Pagana helped Loyalsock pull within three points late in the game and finished with 20 points, 10 steals and six rebounds.
The Lancers (7-14) are not playoff-bound but Pagana’s performance is one reason the future appears bright. Loyalsock returns most of its team next year and is bursting with young talent.
Hughesville sophomore Kierra Croucher is a player to watch the next few years. Croucher scored a career-high 24 points Saturday against Warrior Run … Jersey Shore (8-10) is one of the area’s most improved teams, winning three times as many games this year as in the last three combined. The Bulldogs still have playoff hopes and beat Mifflinburg, 51-46, Saturday … North Penn is a young team that could be dangerous the next two years. The Panthers (8-12) hammered Towanda last Thursday, impressive considering Towanda had beaten Muncy five nights earlier. Sophomores Mariah Berguson and Kaitlyn Garverick are coming on strong and senior Whitney Holdren has had a good year … South Williamsport stunned surging Millville on its home court, 64-60, last Tuesday and freshman Anna Steer showed why she could be a breakout player next season. The freshman scored a season-high 22 points.
Masse may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.