By Scott Dudinskie
The Daily Item
DANVILLE -- Milton coach Aaron Slusser has affectionately called Katelyn Gensel "Noodles" for the last several years, presumably because of her tall, thin build and light complexion.
That must be it, because the Black Panthers senior is certainly not soft.
Gensel made a strong putback amid the traffic of Danville's bigs to give Milton its first lead with 49 seconds remaining in Friday's pivotal Heartland-I showdown.
She then fearlessly tied up Ironmen freshman post Amber Renz off a missed free throw to maintain possession and ultimately shave a few seconds off Danville's last-ditch play.
The Ironmen had to inbound and go the length of the court to score with seven seconds to play. Although Kylie Romeo raced into the frontcourt and passed to Siobhan Bross for a chance, Milton smothered the Danville senior as she curled into the lane from the left wing, not allowing her a clean look.
Milton, coming off its worst loss of the season, scored easily its best win, overcoming an early 12-point deficit and bumping the Ironmen from a three-way tie atop the HAC-I standings, 39-38, Friday at the McCloskey Center.
"That's a veteran group, and they didn't lose faith because they've been in games and situations like that before," said Panthers coach Aaron Slusser. "It's one of those where instead of shrinking from the moment, they stepped up and took care of it.
"It was a great comeback."
Two days after they were throttled at home by a 4-13 Williamsport team, 58-29, the Panthers weathered Danville's first-quarter blitz and their own 26 total turnovers. The win kept Milton (10-7) tied with Shamokin in the division lead at 8-2, while dropping red-hot Danville (13-4) to 7-3.
"When it got close I thought we panicked, and we hadn't done that before," said Ironmen coach Steve Moser, whose team had won seven of eight. "It was a total team effort (to unravel), for sure. Give Milton credit: They played good defense and scrapped."
"Close" should have been a relative term, given Danville's start. The Ironmen led 12-2 a little more than five minutes in, and the 6-foot Renz had all but two of the points. The Panthers shot 1-for-9 from the field, committed six turnovers and trailed 16-4 at period's end.
"The first quarter, it seemed like we did everything we could to give the game away," said Slusser. "We didn't take care of the ball; we did not match their intensity at all. I mean, Danville came out and took it to us.
"One thing I told the girls was 'They're going to come out strong; we cannot get put back on our heels.' That's exactly what happened."
Mackenna Miller opened the second quarter with a 3-pointer, but the Panthers' turnovers continued to mount. At one point they had 10 giveaways to nine shots; a few minutes later, they had 13 shots (four makes) and 12 turnovers.
"Throughout this whole season we've had trouble at times getting off to a slow start. But we know that as a team we can come back and make it a game," said Gensel. "We couldn't have the (here-we-go-again) mind set. As long as we played our game, we knew we could get back."
A Renz free throw made it 23-11 with 3:20 left in the half but Danville didn't score again, allowing Milton to pull within seven at the break. Renz had 13 points and seven rebounds at halftime (same as Tuesday's first half at Shikellamy), and finished with game-highs of 23 and 13, respectively.
The freshman was the only Ironmen who scored in the third, and her nine points helped Danville keep pace. In the fourth, however, the Ironmen managed just five shots due in large part to eight turnovers.
"We got careless with basketball. We just quit doing the things we were supposed to do," Moser said. "We forced some shots; we turned the ball over -- unforced turnovers. At that point in time, it wasn't so much their defense as it was our carelessness. Later in the game they played some good defense and we didn't react like I thought we should have."
It was a six-point margin after three quarters, and Karissa Brown's second 3-pointer made it 32-29. The Ironmen managed to stay at least one point ahead for the next five minutes, finally bowing when Gensel followed a missed jumper.
"I saw that the ball was a little hard off the rim, so it came back farther than what, I believe, (Renz) had expected," said Gensel, who had five rebounds and eight points. "I just put it up and it happened to go in. It came off my hand wrong so I didn't know if was going in, but I'm glad it did."