By Scott Dudinskie
The Daily Item
DANVILLE -- It's difficult to guess whether the Danville girls felt threatened by Milton's fourth-quarter run or the starters simply returned to the court for an encore.
Either way, the Ironmen restored order in their brief reappearance and then left the game to an ovation worthy of their superb performance Friday in a 46-30 win over the Black Panthers.
"It's my senior year (and) I want to play as much as I can," Danville forward Ericka Heath said with a smile. "I don't like the bench."
Amber Renz scored 17 points, while Heath and Sara Naessig each added 10 in Danville's 12th consecutive victory. The Ironmen (18-1, 10-1 Heartland-I) are fast approaching their second straight HAC-I championship and the No. 1 seed in the District 4 Class AAA playoffs.
Milton (8-11, 4-7), which has lost eight of its last 10 games, must win out to make the District 4-AAA field with games remaining against Jersey Shore, Selinsgrove and Shamokin.
The Black Panthers endured four 4-plus-minute scoreless spans Friday, shooting 23.8 percent for the game (10 of 42). White-hot Danville is not a team to go cold against.
"They shot very well, and we did not," said Milton coach Aaron Slusser. "That's kind of been our Achilles' heel all year."
The Ironmen went on a 9-0 spree during Milton's first drought with Renz scoring seven points, including a run-ending 3-pointer for a 15-7 lead early in the second period.
The Panthers' second slump stung to the tune of a 25-11 deficit before the first of Dani Lincoln's two 3-pointers got Milton within 11 at the break. Lincoln scored a team-high 10 points. Brooke Swartz had all nine of her points in the first half, plus a game-high 13 rebounds.
"We focus on coming out strong every game, and we knew we had to do this because Milton's tough," said Heath. "They're very aggressive, and sometimes we aren't as aggressive as we want to be. So we felt we had to jump on them right away."
The Black Panthers had a double-digit lead in the teams' first meeting Jan. 8, an eventual 48-37 Danville win. So they didn't view the 25-14 halftime deficit as insurmountable. But Milton missed its first four shots of the third quarter and committed three turnovers, all while the Ironmen hit four straight and pumped the lead to 35-14.
Danville actually made seven of its first eight second-half shots, and went 7-for-10 in the third, pushing the margin as wide as 25.
"It's very frustrating," said Slusser. "An 11-point spread at halftime is just a couple baskets, but how many turnovers did we have right away in the second half?
"We're a young team and we're just not used to playing from behind like some of the teams we've had in the past."
Naessig scored eight points in the third; Heath and Renz each added four. Renz fashioned a sparkling stat line of 17 points, nine rebounds, four steals, three blocks and two assists.
Milton made a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter with most of Danville's starters on the bench, cutting the lead to 41-28. Renz returned and went coast-to-coast with a rebound to score, and then Paige Harris converted off the first of three straight turnovers.
The Panthers had 19 total turnovers, 14 of them Ironmen steals.
"We played a very good defensive ballgame. I thought we locked it down real well," said Danville coach Steve Moser.
"You're going to work with (guards) Naessig and Harris out front, and Ali Berg played very good defense."