By Anthony Mitchell
For The Daily Item
MILTON -- Milton clung to a small lead in the fourth quarter as Northwest worked the ball into the low post. Rotating over, Brady Chappell got a palm on the ball, pinning it to the backboard and forcing the stop for the Black Panthers.
Spurred on by the change in possession, the Black Panthers won a tight battle over the Rangers, 49-40, in the second semifinal of the Milton Orange and Black Tournament.
After taking the ball off of the backboard, the ball made its way to Milton's sure-handed point guard Ethan Baker and Baker helped the Black Panthers extend their lead, keeping the ball on their side of the court.
Baker helped to ensure the victory, weaving in and out of defenders as the clock went under one minute remaining, melting seconds off of the clock to prevent a comeback from the Rangers.
Baker ended the night with a team-high 13 points for the Black Panthers.
"Ethan Baker works very hard out there," Milton coach Gene Bruno said.
Throughout the game, the Rangers could not find a consistent answer to Travis Krall around the basket and Krall made Baker's job easy with the guard sending the ball inside and letting the senior center jockey for position.
"We made some nice baskets there at the very end," Bruno said. "We got the ball inside. (Travis) made some big shots there at the end. That's all good stuff."
Bruno added that he was pleased with the play of Wade Heidel and Ryan Emery as Emery made a late layup that helped to seal the win and Heidel was a consistent source of points for Bruno, finishing with 12 points.
Krall came down with a board off of a missed three and drew a foul as defenders closed quickly midway through the fourth quarter. Krall knocked down a pair of free throws and converted a layup on the Black Panthers' next possession to push the Milton lead to three possessions, 45-38, with under three minutes left.
The Rangers tried to close the gap quickly with 3-pointers down the stretch, but outside shots were not falling consistently and shots beyond the arc did not fall late, allowing Milton to slow the game down and wind the clock down.
The Black Panthers took a one-point lead into the fourth quarter after Baker drained a trey and Charlie Margelewicz answered on a jumper for the Rangers.
With a game that was one missed shot from a potential breakaway, both teams struggled to find their stroke early in the fourth quarter.
Bruno remarked that he was excited with the way that his defense shut down the Rangers, adding that holding a team to 40 points was a goal for his squad.
"I know how hard it is for us to score points," Bruno said. "The kids learn in a tight one how to win one and that's all part of growing."
While the Black Panthers endured stretches of close misses, the defensive pressure that the Black Panthers showed at the other end limited the Rangers to many one-and-done possessions.
Early in the game, the Milton defense continually pulled down rebounds to prevent putbacks to end the first quarter with eight straight points to take an 18-11 lead.
The Rangers worked back to tie the game at 31 in the third quarter before Baker knocked down a three that gave the Black Panthers a lead that the home team did not relinquish despite challenges late in the game.