By Kevin Eickman
All season long, coach Bob Spath has been waiting for it to happen. Waiting for this talented Buccaneers boys’ basketball to take that next step, to take their game to the next level. Since barely surviving in a home victory against Seaford back on January 14, Milford has certainly been heading in that direction. While dropping a close road tilt to Saint Andrews on Tuesday, this past week demonstrated that the Buccaneers might just be on the cusp of something special.
This past Thursday, Milford hosted a Lake Forest team (8-7) that they should have been able to handle easily. However, Milford has seen themselves in this place before and often times come up lacking on the evening. Another factor heading into the game, was the knowledge that less than 24 hours later they would be facing off against Saint Mark’s, considered by many to be one of the top teams in the State. The situation was ripe for a Milford let down.
Not now, not with this team. Spath is challenging his squad now, daring them to re-define their mindset. “I was talking about the team about preparation for the tournament. What do you think a top team in the State would do to Lake Forest? What would be the score at a Sanford-Lake game?,” Spath said. “What are you? You can’t come in here and eek out a three or four or five point win, that’s not enough. You can’t be satisfied with that. Otherwise you’re just an impostor, you’re not who you say your are.”
To start the game, Milford looked a bit sluggish. Not playing terribly, but there was nothing to indicate that this was not going to be a struggle for the Buccaneers against an inferior opponent. Trailing 9-4 late in the quarter and the Buccaneers offense looking stagnant, Spath turned to senior Dame Coleman in search of a spark.
“Coach told me we looked dead out there,” Coleman said. “I’m a senior go out show the other team why they’re not playing with us.” Coleman answered his coaches call in emphatic fashion. Drilling a three pointer from way downtown, followed by a dazzling spin move in the lane; that would square the teams at nine as the quarter came to a close.
While Lake may not have realized it at the time, it was the beginning of the end for their upset hopes. Milford began to impose their will on the visiting Spartans, with each passing possession it was becoming apparent that the Buccaneers had accepted the challenge of Spath. They were crushing a team they were supposed to, there was going to be no drama on this evening. Milford would dominate on their way to a 69-43 victory. The game was not as close as the sore might lead you to believe, with Spath emptying the bench for a majority of the final quarter.
Coleman would lead all scorers on the evening with 18 points, putting on a clinic and drawing praise from his teammates and coach Spath. “He’s a difficult guy to guard. For a guy that’s like 5’10” he finishes better than anybody on the whole team,” stated Spath. “He can do a reverse on you, he sees you coming from a mile away. He can do a spin move, Euro step, whatever. He’s really creative with his finishes.”
One of the key factors developing for Milford is the emerging factor of their pair of big men. Junior Marcus Correa has been joined by fellow junior Eugene Riley, enabling Milford to contest rebounds which has a times been a real weakness for the Bucs. Riley brings with him a tenacity that has drawn praise from the Milford coach. “He’s fearless, he has no care for his body. He’ll go up in traffic, just rip down rebounds, dive for loose balls,” said Spath. “This guy’s a battler, he knows nothing more than I’m gonna go this ball, no matter what it takes.”
The second test of the weekend at Saint Marks was inevitably more challenging for the Buccaneers as they attempted to earn their first victory against a non Henlopen South opponent since early December. It is just the type challenge that Spath has been waiting for his team to step up and embrace. The Buccaneers traveled north of the canal ready to play. Against the tough Spartan defense, Milford was able to execute right from the start. The Buccaneers outscored their hosts, 11-3 in the first quarter and entered the locker room at the half with a 16-12 advantage.
The patient style of Saint Marks is something they have traditionally struggled against, not on this night however. While the Buccaneers put up what might have looked like an unimpressive six points in the third quarter, it was six more than the Spartans who put up zero. That number says a great deal about an ever improving team that has big aspirations.
While Saint Marks would narrow the gap, Milford would earn a 35-31 road victory, that Spath has desperately wanted. With the win Milford improved to 11-5 (9-0) on the season, needing just one more Henlopen South victory to lock up the division. Milford is aiming high this year and taking one game at a time is crucial for them, if they want to gain a favorable seed in the tournament. A question Spath has repeatedly put to his team, “What type of team do you want to be come tournament time?” The answer needs to take shape over the final four games of the season. Only the players can answer it, they are the ones with the growing belief in themselves. A belief they need to embrace if they are to reach the lofty perch they seek.
The Buccaneers host Indian River on Tuesday and Caesar Rodney on Thursday. Both games tip at 6:15.