By Jon Gerardi
The Daily Item
COAL TOWNSHIP —
With only a few seconds left on the clock, Milton’s Brandon Rogers had the ball near halfcourt and just dribbled around before finally throwing the ball as high as he could into the air at Shamokin High’s “Purple Palace.”
The buzzer went off before the ball landed and Milton coach Steve DeLong turned around to the Milton fans behind him, pumping his fist and cheering.
The Black Panthers were kings of District 4 Class AAA again thanks to a 58-45 win over Shikellamy in the title game Saturday night. It marks the first district championship for Milton since the 2006-07 season.
Both teams advanced to the state tournament. Milton plays Scranton Prep, the District 2 third-place finisher, while Shikellamy plays Abington Heights, the District 2 champion. Both games are Friday at sites and times to be announced.
Milton (16-8) got out to a huge first-quarter advantage to lead 12-2. The Black Panthers opened with a 10-0 run before Shikellamy (14-11) scored on a Ryan Kenney layup with 1:50 to play in the first. The Braves rallied and fought back in the second and third quarters to bring it close before Kyle Leitzel hit a big 3-pointer with 7:20 to go in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 36.
“That’s something we’ve done all season. We’ve been down by sometimes double digits and we have a pretty good resolve that we’re going to battle,” Shikellamy coach Tim Foor said. “I was very pleased when we got it to 36-36, then we went on a dry spell for the next three or four minutes and you can’t do that in a championship game.”
Instead of Leitzel’s trey shifting all the momentum away from Milton, it woke up the Black Panthers. Travis Krall sparked Milton with two straight baskets in a 50-second span that ignited a 12-0 run. Krall ended the night with a double-double of 18 points and a game-high 16 rebounds.
“He was going to have to be the difference maker tonight,” DeLong said, a gold medal and net draped around his neck. “He’s the one big advantage we had over them and I felt like I didn’t really take advantage of him the last matchup (against Shikellamy) and I wasn’t going to make that mistake this time.”
After tying the game at 36, the Braves didn’t score again from the floor until Ernie Tyler hit a 3-pointer with 1:02 remaining to cut the deficit to 11. Once Milton led by 10 points, Shikellamy never cut it back into single digits the rest of the game.
Krall’s presence inside was felt all night as the junior routinely made putback baskets and kept Shikellamy from getting any offensive boards for second-chance points. In the first half alone, nearly half of Milton’s 22 points came on putbacks.
Michael Jacobs (17 points) kept Shikellamy from getting back in the game as he was sent to the line numerous times, downing his shots each trip. The senior went 9 for 10 from the free throw line.
“(It) gave us so much confidence. We knew any one of us on the court could go out there and make those free throws,” Jacobs said. “Just knowing that they had to foul, we knew we had those points.”
“He’s an 85 percent free throw shooter and he’s been for two years. So I had the ultimate confidence when he goes to the line,” DeLong added. “That’s who we’re trying to get the ball to at the end there to seal the game.”
The Braves started to get into foul trouble in the second half, as Kenney and Tyler each picked up their fourth fouls within 30 seconds of one another early in the third. Zach Herbster then drew his fourth foul with 4:35 to play.
Tyler shot well below his average, scoring just seven points, while younger brother C.J. led the Braves with 15.
“We got into early foul trouble in the first six minutes of the game. They really attacked us offensively and defensively. We didn’t rebound very well,” Foor said. “Have to give them credit: they were a much more aggressive team in the first six minutes.”
Milton out-rebounded Shikellamy, 37-22, pulling 22 on the defensive end. The Braves had just six offensive boards in the loss.