By Scott Dudinskie
The Daily Item
COAL TOWNSHIP —
There was a ready-made excuse had Aaron Slusser been so inclined to use it.
Milton’s girls were so anxious to make the district playoffs that they were too tight and tried too hard to win Monday’s do-or-die game against Shamokin.
Unfortunately for Slusser and his team, though, the explanation for how the eventual 46-32 loss got away from the Black Panthers was all too familiar.
“We’ve been that team this year where if we start hitting early we’ll hit all night,” he said. “If we start missing early, it’s going to be a long night for us.
“It’s kind of been our Achilles’ heel all year; our shooting percentage has not been good.”
Milton missed its first 14 shots from the floor in Monday’s regular-season finale, falling into a 17-7 hole before Brooke Swartz hit an inside bucket at the 4:23 mark of the second quarter.
That start spelled doom against a Shamokin team that won its fifth straight with strong balance from its scorers. Catie Pancher led the Indians with 11 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, and Shaylee Pesarchick had 10. Liv Bonshock added eight points and 14 rebounds, while Kelsey Forbes scored seven off the bench.
The Indians (13-9, 11-3 HAC-I) secured a District 4 Class AAA berth in the middle of their winning streak. Milton (10-12, 6-8) missed by a single win after getting into the field last season by two.
Shamokin was coming off an emphatic win over Danville in which it stunned the HAC-I leading Ironmen with an 11-2 first quarter. The Indians led Milton 8-2 after one period Monday night, but they stumbled out of the gate as well, hitting just one of the first seven shots and committing three early turnovers.
“This team is frustrating; you don’t know what you’re getting,” from game to game, said Shamokin coach Bill Callahan. “We weren’t here mentally, and it was obviously with some of the mistakes we made.”
The Indians went up 10 on a straightaway 3 by Pancher with less than 5 minutes left in the half. After Gabi Lahr put them ahead 19-9, the Indians were scoreless for the last 3 minutes of the half. Carissa Wagner’s late trey cut Milton’s halftime deficit to 19-12.
“We were 2-of-23 in the first half, down by seven points, and we were still in it,” said Slusser. “We came out and still ... we didn’t shoot really any better in the second half.”
The Black Panthers were 3-for-13 in the third quarter as the margin continued to grow. It was an 11-point difference when Shamokin’s Gabby Erb was fouled going to the basket and Milton’s Mackenna Miller was hit with consecutive technical fouls.
Erb hit her free throws, and Bonshock and Pancher each made one of two technicals. Although the Indians didn’t score on the ensuing possession, Bonshock’s assist underneath to Kelsey Forbes made it 34-17 late in the third. The lead was as wide as 19 in the fourth.
Milton freshman Maggie Wetzel, who led the team at 10.2 ppg., fouled out late in the third before scoring a point. Dani Lincoln scored five of her six points in the fourth quarter, and Swartz pulled half of her 14 rebounds in the period. Swartz scored 14 to lead the Panthers.
“It was a very, very physical game,” said Callahan. “Hopefully, we’re all healthy and ready to go for next week (in districts).”