By Todd Hummel
For The Daily Item
MILTON - Milton coach Aaron Slusser had to take a moment before he followed his team into the locker room at halftime of their Heartland Athletic Conference-Division I contest with Selinsgrove on Wednesday night.
Milton’s performance in the first half was desultory, to put it mildly, especially for a team that had turned itself into the surprise of HAC-I this season.
“One of our keys this year was not starting out slow and that’s exactly what we did (Wednesday). We had no continuity on offense and we didn’t take care of the ball. We weren’t not in rhythm at all,” Slusser said. “I was not happy at halftime, but I was more concerned than unhappy. That’s not us.”
However, the Black Panthers used halftime to regroup and put a second-half performance together that reflected how they’ve played this season, holding the Seals to just four second-half field goals and turning a 10-point halftime deficit into a 38-31 victory over Selinsgrove.
“We did what we had to do in the second half and our defense stepped up. Offensively, we started to get aggressive looking for shots,” Slusser said. “Once we started getting aggressive and trusting the offense, that’s when things started to go our way and you could see it.
“Last year we would have folded at halftime, but we showed a lot of heart.”
The numbers told the story in the first half for Milton. The Black Panthers (7-5 overall, 4-1 HAC-I) turned the ball over 13 times in the first half and Selinsgrove had an incredible 17-rebound advantage on the glass. Seals’ junior forward Laura Long almost outrebounded Milton herself, pulling down 11 while the Black Panthers had 13 as a team in the first half.
“Give (Selinsgrove) credit, they really took it to us in the first half. They controlled things,” Slusser said. “(Long) was incredible in the first half; she really took it to us. At halftime, we really talked about boxing her out and limiting them to one shot.”
Selinsgrove (5-7, 3-3) scored the final seven points of the first half to open up a 19-9 advantage at halftime as Milton managed just one field goal in the second quarter.
The Seals still led by 10 after a Becca Bausinger 3-pointer made it 22-12 with 5:45 left in the third quarter, but Milton began its methodical climb back into the game.
Dana Kyle scored five consecutive points to spark a 12-1 run that gave the Black Panthers their first lead at 24-23 since late in the first quarter when Linea Brouse canned a 3-pointer with 42 seconds left.
“We’ve done that a couple of times this year. We come out real hard, then I don’t if we have a lapse or what but then we just can’t seem to get out of it,” Selinsgrove coach Tim Lauver said.
The Seals led twice more — once on a Jess Kerstetter bucket inside with 17 seconds left in the third and again with 6:35 left in the game on a Long field goal.
However, Milton answered with six consecutive points, the last a Mackenna Miller driving layup with 5:07 left in the game to take a 32-27 lead.
Kiersten Craig-Sovic cut the lead to four with 2:34 left for Selinsgrove, but Katelyn Gensel converted a bucket inside and the Black Panthers hit four foul shots in the final 1:10 to clinch the game.
Emily Baker had 12 points, 10 rebounds and four steals to lead Milton. Gensel had seven points, five boards and two blocks off the bench for the Black Panthers.
Long led the Seals with 15 points and 17 rebounds.