By Jon Gerardi
The Daily Item
MIFFLINBURG -- It looked as if all the momentum was finally changing hands. Little by little, Hughesville chipped away at Milton's lead.
The Black Panthers turned over the ball on five straight possessions and the Spartans didn't waste the opportunities. Hughesville went on a 13-0 run toward the end of the third quarter.
All of a sudden, Milton saw an 18-point deficit dwindle to just five, and that's when first-year Milton coach Gene Bruno called a timeout in hopes of settling his kids down a little in their first game of the season.
"You call a timeout to try to change momentum a little bit. Let's face it -- give Hughesville credit -- they cut it to five and then this early on for my boys to jump in there -- using some underclassmen to boot -- and get that lead extended again, it's a very good effort on the Black Panthers' part, I thought," Bruno said.
The momentum change shifted right back to Milton after Bruno's timeout. Shawn Rishel sank a 3-pointer shortly after the timeout and followed it up less than 20 seconds later with a nice layup and, all of a sudden, Milton was up by 10 points again.
Rishel's scoring helped spark Milton and the Black Panthers went on to defeat the Spartans, 74-50, in the Mifflinburg Tipoff Tournament on a snowy Friday night.
Milton (1-0) was led by Ethan Baker's 22 points, while Travis Krall and Wade Heidel each added 10. Krall also grabbed a team-high six rebounds while recording a block as well.
"Ethan Baker and Wade Heidel are the Energizer bunnies: they make us go," Bruno said. "If Wade Heidel's not scoring, he's doing a lot of other good things: tipping balls, getting rebounds and keeping us in sync out there. Baker, we got to keep the ball in his hands because he's an intelligent point guard and we run multiple sets of offense and Bake has to get us together to gather it and make sure we get in sync."
While that trio was potent for Milton, Tyler Mitcheltree was a force for the Spartans (0-1). Mitcheltree led Hughesville with 24 points, eight rebounds and three steals.
Hughesville's rally was due in part to Milton getting away from the offense Bruno prefers to run.
"I'm more structured. I don't want them to go out on a whim and just start throwing stuff up. That's sort of how they played, and I'm having trouble breaking them of that habit," Bruno said.
"We got to limit that (3-point shots) and attack the basket more. That's the difference between this year and last year and what we're implementing offensively," Bruno added.
Milton attempted 13 treys in the opener.
The Spartans kept the game within reach throughout the first half. Late in the first quarter Freddie Newhart scored to make it a seven-point game, and then he had a tip early in the second to cut Milton's down to just eight points.
It wasn't until Rishel's spark in the third quarter that the Black Panthers started to truly pull away and put the game out of Hughesville's reach. Milton led by 12 to end the third quarter when Mike Cooper sank two free throws, and increased its lead to 18 when Krall had a putback with 3:50 to play in the fourth.
Milton plays tournament host Mifflinburg, an 82-33 winner over Line Mountain in the night's second game, for the championship today at 7:30 p.m. The Eagles (0-1) and Hughesville play in the consolation game at 6.