By Jon Gerardi
The Daily Item
Steve DeLong slowly climbed a ladder to reach the net at Shamokin’s Purple Palace on Saturday after the District 4 Class AAA title game against Shikellamy.
Once he got the scissors and cut that final piece of net down, DeLong grabbed it with one hand and pumped his fist as he screamed and cheered with the Milton fans.
It was the Black Panthers’ time to shine, and for good reason.
Not many expected Milton to make the district boys basketball playoffs this season, let alone make the run they made, but the Black Panthers have had an incredible turnaround year.
Almost a month ago, Milton senior Chad Diggan scored his 1,000th career point and afterwards joked that while scoring 1,000 points was nice, a district title would be even sweeter.
Who would have thought they could actually win that district title in a tough Class AAA field that featured perennial contenders like Danville and Shikellamy.
“I knew we had it in us. I knew the kids had it in them, but they would have to go out and do it,” DeLong, now in his third year at the helm for Milton, said after the 58-45 title win over Shikellamy. “I don’t know if any of us imagined this. This is just beyond belief. At the same time, I knew we could do some good things this year if you play well and you play hard and you play as a team.
“You believe in each other, you never know what can happen.”
What happened was Milton went 16-9 — winning four more games this year than the last three seasons combined — won its first District 4 title since 2007, and made its first District 4 playoff appearance since DeLong took over the team.
Milton looks to keep that momentum going in the PIAA state tournament on Friday night against Scranton Prep back at Shamokin.
Scranton Prep (18-8) claimed third place in the District 2 tournament. The Cavaliers have three players over 6-foot, including 6-foot-7 junior center Noah Beh, who’s averaging 8.4 points per game.
Senior guard Matt Knowles leads Scranton Prep with 15 ppg., while 6-foot-5 junior forward James Fives averages 14.5.
Milton is led by Michael Jacobs (14.9 ppg.), Diggan (13.6) and Ethan Baker (7.8). And while his scoring average may not rival the teams’ best, Travis Krall stepped up against Shikellamy, recording a double-double of 18 points and 16 boards and was a pivotal piece of Milton’s championship win.
Most likely, Krall will be worked into Milton’s game plan again Friday.
Shikellamy (14-11) didn’t win a District 4 title this year, nor has it since 1979, but the Braves are still PIAA bound for being runners-up in Class AAA. They face Abington heights at Lackawanna College on Friday.
Braves coach Tim Foor will have a tough test against the Comets (25-2), who claimed their third District 2 Class AAA title in the last four seasons and fourth since 2008.
Abington Heights starting five are all over 6-feet tall, and junior guard J.C. Show is averaging an impressive 19.2 ppg while senior center Jason Bamford is averaging 11.7.
Shikellamy has plenty of weapons, too, to go up against the Comets. Ernie Tyler has heated up offensively the second half of the season and is one of the top area scorers, leading Shikellamy with a team-high 13.2 ppg., while younger brother C.J. is averaging 11.8. Shikellamy also has Austin Mowery who is averaging 7.2, Zach Herbster who has been a good rebounder all year, and Derek Amerman who can step up.
The Tyler brothers and Mowery have combined for 123 three-pointers this season, giving Shikellamy a good outside threat.
One of the best all-around local teams still in the playoffs however may be Lewisburg (23-4) which faces District 2 champion Holy Cross at Carbondale on Saturday in the Class AA playoffs.
The Green Dragons have four of their starting five averaging double-figures in Travis Conrad (14.5), Erich Kline (12.2), Sam Allen (11.6) and Mike Driscoll (10.3), and those four will look to give Holy Cross matchup problems.
Holy Cross 6-foot-7 senior center Josh Kosin is averaging 18.2 ppg and will be a tough weapon to stop inside off the glass. No one else on the Lackawanna Division III champion Crusaders is averaging double-digits, however.
Holy Cross won its fourth District 2 title in just its sixth season of existence and has been to the state playoffs all six years.
In District 3, Greenwood (19-4) came up just short of winning the title, but still got into the PIAA Class A field. The Wildcats face a talented Sullivan County squad at Milton Hershey on Friday.
As usual, Greenwood coach Kent Houser has a solid team that played excellent ball en route to a fifth straight Tri-Valley League title.
Three of the Wildcats’ starting five are in double-figures — Josh Ferguson (12.7), Ryan Kerstetter (12.4) and Adam Harrison (10.3) — while Tyler Fegley is very close 9.9. Kerstetter also has hit a team-high 46 three-pointers, while Harrison’s added 22.