By Jon Gerardi
The Daily Item
WILLIAMSPORT -- As Milton came out and started warming up after the half, an Athens fan yelled out "We got to stop that No. 30!"
For the most part in the second half, the Athens defense did stop No. 30, Milton's Brandon Rogers.
Perhaps then you could say it was all but fitting that it was Rogers himself who scored the game's final four points against the Wildcats, single-handedly beating them.
As soon as Rogers dunked it and the buzzer sounded, the entire Milton bench, including head coach Steve DeLong, jumped together and cheered in front of the rowdy Milton student section that was in attendance on the court to celebrate their 59-53 win over Athens in the District 4 Class AAA semifinals on Wednesday night.
Milton advances to face Shikellamy for the title.
With 22 seconds left, Athens threw the ball in only to see Ethan Baker get a hand on it and knock it loose. That's when Rogers scooped it up and had a perfect layup to put Milton ahead by five, 57-52, and all but put the game away with 11.2 ticks left on the clock.
"For as hard as we worked and being up the whole game, it was big to go up five and not give them a chance to come down and tie it," an emotional DeLong said.
Athens took a 52-50 lead with 1:43 to play when Luke Wright hit a nice shot, but that lead lasted all of 13 seconds before Milton responded again with a huge trey by Wade Heidel.
"To come off the bench like that and have the guts to take that shot and knock it down (was huge)," DeLong said. "We've hit big shots when we needed them. I'm amazed at how composed they are and amazed in those moments that they can make plays like that. (The) last two years we've struggled to even compete. It just shows what these kids are made of."
Once Milton regained the lead on Heidel's huge 3-pointer, the Black Panthers never relinquished it again. Athens would fail to score from the floor the remainder of the game once losing the lead. The Black Panthers had huge games from Baker (19 points, seven assists, three steals), Michael Jacobs (16, five boards) and Rogers (11, five boards) to keep Milton on top. The Black Panthers started the third quarter off a bit shaky as Athens started the half with three straight steals to cut the deficit to two before Milton regained its composure and built a 6-point lead.
"We just had to stay composed. They just showed their heart again and they hung on. DeLong said."
The Black Panthers never let Athens cut into the deficit by much in the first half. Whenever the Wildcats hit a shot to cut it down, Milton responded and built its lead right back up. Milton led by as many as nine points twice in the first half and led by at least five from 4:20 in the first quarter until the half.