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Milton wins hard-fought contest against South Williamsport boys

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Milton's Carter Lilley (11) shoots under heavy pressure from South Williamsport's Lee Habalar (10), left, and Connor Apker (25) in the second quarter.

Dale Mitchell might not think he is always open but he always remains prepared. He knows that with quality guards like Xzavier Minium and Jace Brandt the ball could be coming his way at any time.

Both found Mitchell multiple times Monday at South Williamsport and the senior forward always delivered. He also was a huge factor on the glass and scored six points during a game-changing third-quarter run, helping Milton win a hard-fought 42-33 contest. Mitchell finished with a season-high nine points and six rebounds and played a huge part in the 13-3 third-quarter flurry in which Milton (10-6) turned a one-point deficit into a nine-point advantage it never relinquished.

On a night when Milton struggled mightily from the field, Mitchell’s contributions were huge ones and demonstrated why the team’s guards have such confidence in him.

“I get into the game and just try and play my hardest and go off the energy of everyone on the team,” Mitchell said. “We have two really good point guards with Jace and X. They dish the ball around so well. They have their eyes everywhere. They either make the play or dish it off. You have to be ready at all times.”

Mitchell was ready and so was his team which never buckled despite making just 6 of 25 first-half shots. Every player coach Ryan Brandt used made a positive contribution and that third-quarter rally quickly erased South’s lone lead, a one-point advantage early in the third quarter.

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Correspondent South Williamsport's Grant Bachman (1) and Milton's Austin Gainer (1) battle for a rebound in the third quarter.

And Mitchell was in the middle of everything. In addition to playing stout defense, Mitchell’s offensive putback helped ignite the push which ended when Nevin Carrier drained a 3-pointer and put Milton up, 29-20. Seconds before that 3-pointer, Luke Delong found Mitchell inside. He often does a lot of the dirty work that goes unnoticed, but Mitchell stood out and took his turn in the spotlight Monday.

“Dale has had a handful of starts and every time he has had big games for us and he was big for us again,” Ryan Brandt said. “Some of those passes are not easy to catch. We have Jace and X attacking a lot, looking to draw his help and looking to dish in traffic. He did a great job being focused, grabbing it and going up and putting it in. He fought through a couple fouls, too, so he was huge for us tonight.”

Milton is one of the area’s most improved teams but was coming off a disappointing loss in a physical battle Saturday at Mount Carmel. The Panthers also were missing two key reserves and could make little despite executing the offense well throughout the first half. Milton shot just 25 percent during that time, but did not grow discouraged.

The Panthers just grew more determined. Milton dug in defensively, hit the boards hard and managed to lead 15-14 at halftime. The offense picked up some in the second half while the defense and rebounding remained constant with the Panthers outrebounding South, 36-22. Put it all together and Milton produced a quality win in a tough environment while snapping South’s four-game winning streak.

“We weren’t shooting well but they stuck to it and it was just one of those things where I said, ‘Rebound and defense.’ We did a great job on the boards and a phenomenal job on defense,” Brandt said. “We contested things, we closed out with great energy and we were very vocal defensively. The switches were there. The communication was there. That’s why we were able to hang in it with a low shooting percentage.”

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Milton's Xzavier Minium (3) shoots over South Williamsport's Aaron Akers (32) in the fourth quarter.

“Once in a while we have off nights and if we’re not hitting the boards hard it will make for a long night,” Mitchell said. “The shots going to fall sooner or later. We have shooters all around and that second half showed it a little more. That happens sometimes, but we overcame it.”

South did its best to overcome its own shooting woes but Milton never let it settle into a rhythm. The Mounties (7-6) trailed 9-2 six minutes into the game before tying it early in the second quarter. The offense went cold again, however, and a lead provided when Sequan Roberts hit a jumper 30 seconds into the third quarter was short-lived. Lee Habalar (13 points) scored five straight points and Alex Neidig scored off a putback to make it 29-27 early in the fourth. Roberts steal and layup pulled South within 30-29 two minutes later, but Milton held off the comeback and allowed just four more points.

Habalar scored nine of his points in the second half and Roberts produced eight points, seven rebounds and two steals. Ben Manning made some difficult first-half shots and kept South in the game there, scoring six points.

“The scouting report on them was they find a way to hang around in games. I told them if you let them hang around it’s going to be a nailbiter and it could go the other way and unfortunately it did,” South coach Joe Simon said. “They played strong defense, didn’t give up any open shots and everything was contested. But we have to go back to the drawing board and find some more offense somewhere.”

South starts just one senior and this was the second time it gave a District 4 Class AAAA team a battle. That is the positive. Still, the Mounties know they had opportunities to win both games. It is part of the growing process for a team that has come a long way from early in the season and which is battling for a District 4 Class AAA playoff berth.

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Milton's Luke Delong's (24) shot is blocked by South Williamsport's Connor Apker (25) in the fourth quarter.

“We’re in a good spot. We riding a four-game win streak coming in and before the Sullivan game (last week) I told them we have the potential to win 11-14 games to finish the season and we’re still on track for that. Hopefully we’ll get some momentum going and get into the playoffs and carry that in.”

Milton fed off a big crowd and generated momentum throughout the second half. It was different players stepping up at key times, too. Brant scored 10 points and produced five rebounds while Minium added eight points and four boards. Carrier scored six points off the bench, Austin Gainer grabbed a game-high nine rebounds and Carter Lilley and Ashton Krall were big off the bench.

Milton also was outstanding at the foul line in the final two minutes, making nine shots to clinch victory. Minium drained both ends of a 1-and-1 to put Milton up 35-31 and made four shots down the stretch. Gainer also hit both ends of a 1-and-1 while Brandt and Delong also made clutch shots. Milton has excelled in big spots late in wins against Towanda, Mifflinburg, Hughesville and Southern Columbia and did so again Monday.

“South Williamsport is tough. We threw everything at them with four different presses, a couple different defensive looks and they handled pressure well. They are a very well-coached team,” Ryan Brandt said. “Everybody rebounded for us and played well on defense. It was just a complete game.”

MILTON (42)

Xzavier Minium 2 4-6 8, Jace Brandt 3 3-4 10, Luke Delong 1 1-4 4, Austin Gainer 1 2-2 4, Dale Michell 4 1-2 9, Ashton Krall 0 0-0 0, Carter Lilley 0 1-2 1, Nevin Carrier 2 1-2 6. Totals 13 13-22 42.

SOUTH (33)

Lee Habalar 6 1-1 13, Sequan Roberts 4 0-0 8, Grant Bachman 2 0-0 4, Ben Manning 3 0-0 6, Aaron Akers 0 0-0 0, Alex Neidig 1 0-0 2, Conner Apker 0 0-0 0. Totals 16 1-2 33.

Milton 9 6 14 13 — 42

South 6 8 10 9 — 33

3-point goals: Milton 3 (Brandt 1, Delong 1, Carrier 1).

Records: Milton (10-6), South (7-6).

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