By Kevin Eickman
The Milford Buccaneers basketball team has been living on the edge all season. After overcoming a slow start to the season, they had worked their way to a 9-7 record. On Thursday Milford hosted Sussex Tech, who entered the contest with an 11-5 record. Playing in front of their largest crowd of the season, Milford struggled against the co-leaders of the Henlopen Northern conference. Milford fell behind early and every time they got back in the game, Tech would simply put a run together and once again sprint out to a comfortable lead. Talking to coach B.J. Joseph after the 71-59 loss, it was obvious that there is little margin for error. “We have our backs against the wall now and we have to win the rest of our games just to have a chance,”commented Joseph.
Milford had little time to get over their loss as 24 hours later they hosted an 8-8 Saint Mark’s team. The Spartans and Buccaneers waged an epic battle on Friday night, it was a game that saw numerous lead and momentum changes. It tested the wills of both teams and in the end made the Buccaneers dig deep to earn their first overtime victory of the season.
In a contest that featured fierce defense and sporadic offense, Milford was able to end the first quarter with a 9-5 advantage. That was the largest advantage either team would enjoy all game. The Spartan defense presented a constant challenge to the Bucs. Running zone, Milford was forced out of the run and gun style they enjoy so much. Milford was held to their lowest offensive output of the season due to the Spartan effort.“They played tremendous defense tonight, they really presented a challenge to us,” stated Coach Joseph.“You know exactly what your going to get with them and they made us work for every point we got tonight.”
On and on it went, Milford enjoyed a 17-16 advantage at the half, and the teams where knotted at 26 as the game entered the final quarter. Points where at a premium as Saint Mark’s defense continued to ensure a slow pace, making each possession critical. Jason Parker, tied with Tikeace Harris as Milford’s leading scorer with 15 points, gave Saint Mark’s a lot of credit. “They provided a lot of pressure, we had to work for every look we go tonight,” said Parker.
Each time a team would get in front, the other would find an answer. As the pressure mounted, each shot was pressure packed and each mistake critical. Finally time was running out now, Saint Mark’s was down by two and headed to the line with 40 seconds left. Making two crucial free-throws, Saint Mark’s tied it at 36. The Buccaneers would have one final chance to settle the issue in regulation but the final shot of the game bounced off the front of the rim forcing the extra session.
The pace became even more intense as the game continued. Milford upped their defensive intensity, challenging every possession all the way up the court. Even with the pressure, Milford was unable to distance themselves from the Spartans. Finding themselves down 40-38 with just over two minutes left, the Buccaneers turned to Parker. On this critical possession, Parker worked his way free along the baseline. The junior let fly with a three point attempt that found the bottom of the net, one of only two three pointers for the Buccaneers; both by scored by Parker. The Basket gave Milford their first lead in overtime 41-40. Much of the game momentum quickly swung the other way. After making a free-throw to tie the game at 41, Saint Mark’s forced a crucial Buccaneer turnover and capitalized to give themselves a 43-41 lead with just 1:36 left.
There was no margin for error now, Milford knew that if they failed to score it could spell disaster for not only the game, but the season. Working down to the low-post, Milford got the ball into the hands of sophomore Shymer Hanzer, who was fouled and went to the line for two necessary free-throws. Hanzer made them both and once again the score was tied.
Saint Mark’s once again edged ahead and Milford was able to answer. With the game tied at 45, the stage was set for some high drama. The Buccaneers had gotten the stop they so desperately needed, they had the ball and the chance to win with 30 seconds left in the game. Working the ball down the court, they worked for an open shot. While the attempt was missed, Parker grabbed the rebound and was fouled as he attempted a shot. The clock showed just .5 seconds left in the game as the crowd exploded, knowing this was the chance Milford had been waiting for.
However, like everything else in the game, nothing came easy. Parker missed the first of two free-throws, and now the pressure was palpable. As he stepped to the line for the second attempt, Parker knew how important the shot would be. “All I could think of was how important the shot was to us, I knew that I had to make it,” said Parker. And make it he did, giving Milford the lead and the victory they so desperately needed.
Talking with coach Joseph after the game, it was easy to see this was indeed a battle. “Games like this drains you physically, when each possession is so critical it tests your nerves,” said Coach Joseph. “This was a game we had to have and we went out and got it.” With the victory Milford kept their playoff hopes alive and will play nothing but must win contests in their final two games of the season. They will travel on the road to Sussex Central Friday, before finishing up at Cape Henlopen. Neither contest will be easy, but Joseph likes his teams chances. “We have improved so much this season, these are wins we have to have and I know the guys will be ready,” commented Joseph. Tikeace Harris echoed the sentiment, “We know that these are must win games, we are going to do everything we can to make that happen.”