By Anthony Mitchell
For The Daily Item
Milton was giving Mifflinburg all that it could handle deep into the third quarter when Kayla Kline gave her team a spark.
Planted near the foul line on defense, Kline anticipated a pass into the low post and intercepted the ball on a bounce. Using a quick first step, Kline drew even with the Milton back-court on her sprint down the floor, converting at the other end.
The layup from Kline propelled a strong finish to the game for the Wildcats as Mifflinburg beat Milton, 44-27, at the Mifflinburg Intermediate School in a Heartland Athletic Conference-Division I matchup on Friday.
Before Kline’s quick reaction on defense, Mifflinburg (12-4, 6-3 HAC-I) was clinging to a 3-point lead, largely built on stops and smothering defense.
Kline added a buzzer-beating foul line jumper at the end of the third quarter, driving the length of the floor in the final seconds after grabbing a rebound under the basket to close a 6-0 Wildcats run.
“We got (on) a roll there at the end,” Mifflinburg coach Kelly Griffith said. “The third quarter was pretty tight.”
Before the run to end the third quarter that give the Wildcats momentum for the rest of the game, Mifflinburg couldn’t open a lead larger than four points.
During the Wildcats’ run and throughout the second half, Mifflinburg contested nearly every shot that the Black Panthers (7-9, 3-6) attempted and fought for rebounds to run the other way.
While Kline and Emily Weeder scored for the Wildcats to end the third quarter, Sara Stauffer helped to keep Milton from taking a lead in a close game, diving for loose balls and using quick hands to swat the ball away.
“I think we had to play better defense in the second half,” Stauffer said.
Milton opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer from Dani Lincoln to close their deficit to six points, 31-25, but Kline answered shortly thereafter with a 3-pointer as Milton didn’t pull within two possessions of a tie in the final quarter.
“I think (my players) just came out in the second half (and) they wanted (the win),” Griffith said.
In the first half, Milton came out of the gates matching the Wildcats shot-for-shot and steal-for-steal to put an early scare into the Wildcats after Mifflinburg defeated Milton by 28 points in their first meeting in December.
Kline scored a late bucket to tie the game at 10 after the first quarter but Milton couldn’t get the ball inside and convert at the lane in a back-and-forth first quarter.
Both teams traded buckets for much of the second quarter before Milton shook off a block from Kline and got the ball to Carissa Wagner on the perimeter, trailing by a point.
Wagner set her feet and let the ball fly, sinking a rainbow jumper from beyond the arc to put Milton ahead, 18-16.
On the strength of the Wagner 3-pointer, the Black Panthers led by a point at halftime, 18-17.
Lincoln scored four of her seven points in the first half for the Black Panthers and tied Maggie Wetzel for the team lead in points on the night.
“I just think we had a slow start, missed some shots there in the first half,” Griffith said. “They brought it back. I was proud they came back in the second half and played a lot harder.”
Seven players scored for the Wildcats in the win, with Kline, Stauffer and Julia McArdle-Coe finishing in double figures, led by Kline’s 13.