Milford and John Stark are the two highest scoring teams in Class I. Anyone who was at Milford High last evening had to be expecting a shootout. And that's what we got. Both teams had a bunch of sots go halfway down the basket and pop out. The final was Milford 66 John Stark 59, but this game could have easily seen both squads in the 70's.
The Difference in This Game Was
1) A 17-3 run that Milford began the game with. This was led by Mike O'Loughlin, who scored 16 of his game-high 31 in the first half. Also, Stark scored 49 points over the final 3 quarters but really started out the game cold from the field. They had turnovers and missed shots that Milford turned into fast break points on the other end.
2) A 23-12 run that Milford went on between the last 2 minutes of the third quarter and the first 6 minutes of the fourth. The key here was the speed and athleticism of Jamie Holder and O'Loughlin being able to drive, get to the rim and score at will. Stark hung tough during this stretch, with Ethan O'Neill and Tim Plunkett both making some big shots. But Holder and O'Loughlin were just too much for them to handle down the stretch. And Spartan point guard Mike Mitchell was getting them the basketball in positions where they could do damage.
Stark Battled Hard, Give Them Credit
Milford has been the #1 ranked team in Class I virtually all season long. Stark meanwhile was a middle of the pack team all season, usually ranked somewhere in the 8-11 range all year. Throw in the fact that Milford was at home and in front of a packed gym and they have more tournament experience and Dan Murray's team was clearly the favorite. Plus Stark went down 17-3 early. At that point it appeared as if Milford would cruise to a win. The Generals looked like a team that was flat out not as talented as Milford early on.
That is why you have to give John Stark a ton of credit for battling back. I don't think anyone gave them a chance to win this game. But with 2:14 left in the third quarter Stark had a 43-42 lead on Milford.
You have to give Coach Smith a lot of credit for remaining calm and keeping spirits high with his team. Also, Ethan O'Neill played the best I've seen him play over the game's final three quarters. He finished with 18 points and over 10 rebounds. The 6'5" senior showed the ability to face up from the top of the key and either take the ball to the rim and score thanks to a nice spin move or he would stick the three ball.
Greg LeBlond had 16 points for Stark. He was constantly pushing the ball and keeping pressure on the Milford defense. He had a couple bad turnovers and forced shots, but overall played a solid game. LeBlond had a big and-one play to pull the Generals to within 3 at 36-33.
Then Plunkett drilled a three from the top of the key to tie it up at 36 with 4:26 left in the third quarter.
Back to Milford
When Stark tied it up at 36, the gym was going bonkers. Stark took a lead, but only a one point lead and then from there Milford took over.
"I'm just glad we were able to keep our composure once they tied it up" said junior point guard Mike Mitchell, who was all smiles after the win.
Now the Spartans get ready for a rematch with Portsmouth. It's Milford/Portsmouth in the first semi-final game Tuesday night over at UNH. Excluding holiday tournaments, Portsmouth is the only team all year to beat Milford.
"I can't wait to play them!" yelled O'Loughlin after the game.
It was standing room only in the tiny Milford High gym. The Milford student section was packed, loud and enthusiastic. Stark brought a lot of people with them, and packed their side of the bleachers. At one point when Stark was making their third quarter run, there was a timeout on the floor and the place was simply electric. Both sections of the bleachers were going nuts. I was thinking to myself, "This is what high school basketball is all about."
Unfortunately, this game was not held at UNH. It is a shame that folks last night were forced to choose which one of of the four Class I quarterfinal games to see. All four games were great battles and we should have been able to see all four, one night one location at UNH like it used to be. Not to mention the girls Class L and Class I championships were last night as well. The NHIAA needs to do a better job of scheduling the games so people can see more of them and not less.