MOUNT CARMEL – Central Columbia climbed the championship ladder again on Friday night, cutting the net after winning a second straight District 4 Class AAAA title and beating Milton, 41-24.
Milton may not have had that climb, but what a climb he did this year. Friday’s result at Mount Carmel High School doesn’t take away from that
After going 11 years without a playoff win, Milton defeated two top-seeded teams, coming back twice to make it into the playoffs, while also reaching the district finals. The Black Panthers (12-13) also earned their first berth in a state tournament since 2011 and will likely host District 11 runners-up Allentown Central Catholic or Jim Thorpe in Wednesday’s first round.
“I give credit to Milton. They have improved a lot.” Center coach Ryan Novak said. “They handled our pressure maybe better than anyone we played with.”
Milton earned his spot in Friday’s final after overcoming second-half deficits to top-seeded Jersey Shore and Shamokin. The Black Panthers turned a 14-point halftime deficit into a 45-34 semi-final win and when they trailed Central by the same scoreline at halftime, 24-10, it looked like a potential omen.
Indeed, Milton stormed back, scoring nine straight points and shooting 26-19 with 2 minutes and 25 seconds left in the third quarter.
Central, however, flipped the script. The Blue Jays mounted their fierce defense and went on a breakthrough 11-0 run over the next three minutes and never led by less than 13 the rest of the way. Kiersten Stork scored 11 points, grabbed seven rebounds and added three steals.
All of his teammates fought just as hard. Milton didn’t win the championship he coveted, but it certainly wasn’t for lack of effort.
“Milton are a very good team” said centre-forward Emmie Rowe. “They fought back and fought hard, so we knew we couldn’t calm down when they started to gain that momentum.”
Rowe played one of his best games in high school and capped a super district playoff run. After scoring 18 points in the semifinals, Rowe scored a season-high 20 and added nine rebounds and three assists.
Friday’s game was the third in a three-way tie and started 45 minutes late after the first went to extra time. The wait only made Rowe better and she made 8 of 12 shots, including five in a row between the first and second quarters when she scored 14 points and helped Central build their 24-point lead. 10.
“Emmie played very well tonight” says Novak. “It was his offensive performance in small groups.”
“We were all very excited to get into this game,” said Rowe. “We were all a little nervous because of the late start and it all sort of came out at once.”
Central (19-6) is a state tournament slated for a third straight year and will likely host its opener on Wednesday, taking on District 3 runner-up either Delone Catholic or Berks Catholic. The Blue Jays rode their stellar defense to a repeat championship, holding all three district playoff opponents to 24 points or less while allowing just 20 points per game.
And while Milton effectively handled the press all over Central’s field at times, the Blue Jays still rarely allowed clean looks and never gave up more than nine points in a quarter. The defense also produced the game’s pivotal run with Alyx Flick stealing and finding Haley Bull for a layup after Milton fired in the seven.
“We got to this point with our defense so we weren’t going to back down even though we had some foul issues,” says Novak. “My approach has always been that we like to lobby and having a group like this who maybe likes to lobby more than me is always fun.”
Central competed just as hard on the glass and repeatedly got second and third chance scoring opportunities after grabbing offensive rebounds. Combine that with defense and a selfless offense and you have a championship formula.
“We always say that maybe we’re not the most talented and skilled in basketball, but we’re always going to go out there and put our all into it,” said Rowe. “He feels good. We set that goal from the start of the season. That’s what we’re trying to achieve. To successfully achieve that goal is incredible.
Alyx Flick 3 0-2 6, Emmie Rowe 8 3-6 20, Maddy Blake 2 1-1 5, Haley Bull 2 0-5 4, Caitlyn Weatherill 1 0-0 2, Lindsey Bull 1 0-3 2, Ava Klingerman 1 0-0 2. Totals 18 4-17 41.
Morgan Reiner 3 0-0 7, Kiersten Stork 4 3-5 11, Leah Walter 0 1-4 1, Abbey Kitchen 1 1-2 3, Kyla Rovenolt 1 0-0 2, Brooklyn Wade 0-0 0, Amelia Gainer 0 0-0 0. Totals 9 5-11 24.
Central 14 10 9 8–41
Milton 4 6 9 5–24
3 points: Central 1 (Rowe); Milton 1 (Queen)
Records: Central 19-6. Milton 12-13.