By Kevin Eickman
Just two weeks ago, it looked as if the Milford girls’ basketball team were done, destined to fall short of qualifying for the State tournament. With the season already past the halfway point, the Buccaneers were sitting on a 5-6 record and searching for answers. Since that time however, they have reeled off four consecutive wins, concluding with a gutty 42-37 victory this past Thursday against their arch rivals, Lake Forest.
Sometimes you do not have your “A game”, you are not at your best and you have to find another way to win. Thursday night was such a night for the Buccaneers. As the 9-6 Lady Spartans headed into Milford on Thursday, they had every intention of putting the Bucs out of their misery. With the confidence of knowing they had easily defeated Milford back in December, Lake began the game strongly, threatening to settle the issue quickly.
Milford began the game shooting poorly, unable to convert on some early opportunities. While the Buccaneers had early control of the boards, it was Lake who was able to force some key turnovers and convert a few baskets to jump out to a 9-3 lead midway through the first quarter. Complicating matters further for the Buccaneers was the fact senior Tayeler Duffy found a seat on the bench after picking up two quick fouls. With things looking bleak for the Bucs, they were going to need something special if they hoped to come away with the desperately needed victory.
The answer came in the form of Milford senior Rajene Bowe, who turned in one of the strongest performances of her Buccaneer career. Over the final 28 minutes of basketball, Bowe put on a clinic in heart and determination. If there was a loose ball, she dove for it. If there was a rebound to be had, she went for it. While Bowe would finish with a game high 15 points, it was her contagious enthusiasm that served the Buccaneers greatest of all.
“[Bowe] had a phenomenal game tonight. She had a motor that just wouldn’t stop,” coach Leona White stated.
For the rest of the first half, Milford controlled the boards but still had difficulty finding the bottom of the basket. Even though the Buccaneers out shot Lake by a wide margin, the Spartans were able to make some key baskets as the teams entered the locker rooms knotted at 20.
As the teams battled back and forth in the third quarter, Lake refused to go away, edging ahead of the Buccaneers in the final seconds of the stanza with a 32-30 lead. Just when it looked as if the Buccaneers would have to try and come back in the fourth quarter, Milford senior Kiarra Brittingham drained a three-pointer at the buzzer to put the Buccaneers ahead for good.
Perhaps one of the players who epitomized the “all-in” attitude for Milford on the evening, was senior Jameshia Baker. Normally sitting atop the score sheet, Baker had a difficult night from the floor. While not shooting well, Baker contributed a key basket on a beautiful give and go from Bowe just as Lake was threatening to get back in the game.
“She had a rough night, but she pulled it together in the last minutes of the fourth quarter,” White said. “She drew herself back in, she settled down and regained her composure just when she needed to.”
The win was huge for the Buccaneers for a number of reasons, one of which was the loss to Lake earlier in the season. “It meant a lot, every time we play them it’s a competition. It was really important that we worked hard to get the win,” Bowe stated. Looking to make a run at a playoff spot, Bowe believes the Buccaneers are feeling confident. “It gives us the confidence to keep pushing, no matter who the team is, as long as we play together we can win as a team.”
It was not just the Lake win that can serve as an impetus for Milford going forward. Earlier in the week, Milford was able to defeated a 10-5 St. Thomas More who are sitting just outside the top 10. With the final stretch of the season on the horizon, White believes her team is ready for the challenge. Summing it up both simply and eloquently, White stated “We’re on a roll baby, we are on a roll. We are looking forward to getting the next big dog that comes rolling in here.”
On Tuesday Milford will host Indian River (8-6), before hosting No. 5 ranked and 13-1 Caesar Rodney. Both games tip at 6:15.
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