By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
WEST MILTON — The Milton-Union girls basketball team controlled play against three-time defending Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division champion Waynesville throughout the first half Thursday.
But half came after that one.
“We knew it was going to be a battle going in,” Milton-Union coach Katie Roose said. “And it was a four-quarter battle, not a two-quarter battle.”
Waynesville (4-0, 3-0 SWBL Buckeye) outscored the Bulldogs 16-5 in the third quarter and 31-10 total in the second half, dominating the offensive boards and taking control in a 45-31 victory over the rival Bulldogs Thursday at Milton-Union High School.
Milton-Union, which fell to 3-2 and 2-1 in the SWBL Buckeye with the loss, is still the last team to beat the Spartans in division play during the 2016-17 season, and the Bulldogs lost a pair of hard-fought games during the regular season last year, 50-46 and 43-40, before Waynesville won in a 30-point rout in the postseason.
And the Bulldogs took charge early in Thursday’s matchup, using a 9-0 first-quarter run on offense and holding the Spartans to only one field goal defensively to claim a 15-4 lead after one. That lead grew to as many as 13 points at 21-8 after a putback by Rachel Thompson with three minutes left in the second quarter, but Waynesville began chipping away at the lead and only trailed 21-14 at the break.
“In the first half, I was proud of our effort. We played a nice first half,” Roose said. “At halftime, I told the girls that Waynesville was not going to go away. And they didn’t, and that’s to their credit.”
Part of that success in the first half was the job that the Bulldogs did defensively on Waynesville’s Rachel Murray, who they held to only two points. But Murray would not be denied, finishing with a game-high 19 points — including 13 in the fourth quarter to seal the win — and adding seven rebounds.
“I think it was the competitiveness of Rachel Murray that was the difference,” Roose said. “She’s a three-time Player of the Year in the SWBL. I’m sure she was frustrated at halftime, having two points and two fouls, and she’s not satisfied. She’s a competitor, and she made sure in the second half that she was going to assert herself. She was making good, aggressive cuts and making sure she got herself open, and that’s a credit to her. And we unfortunately left her some uncontested shots that we talked about not allowing.”
Murray and Marcella Sizer, who helped lead the Spartans in the tournament game against the Bulldogs last year, both picked up two quick fouls in the first half — but Milton-Union simply couldn’t do enough with them off the floor to stay ahead.
“Sizer had two fouls and Murray had two fouls in the first half. We wanted to be sure to go at Sizer because she’s prone to foul trouble — and we were able to do that and keep her in foul trouble for the majority of the game. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to capitalize when she was out, using that to our advantage in the post.”
And Waynesville’s play inside was what truly turned the game. At halftime, the Spartans held a slim 18-16 rebounding advantage — and they finished the game winning the battle of the boards 42-28, with 22 of those rebounds coming on the offensive end, leading to countless second- and third-chance points in the second half.
“This is the second straight game we’ve been outrebounded,” Roose said. “We’ve got to buckle down, and we’re going to continue to work on it after the Arcanum game. We have got to make sure that we secure the rebound and limit them to one shot per possession, because that was the difference. It wasn’t just one rebound, it was multiple rebounds — and then we’d compound it by committing a foul. We’ve got to be able to secure the glass.”
After Murray’s 19 points, Lynzie Hatshorn added nine points — all in the second half — Sizer had six points and seven rebounds, Carli Brown had six points, Kenzie Purkey had three points and 11 rebounds and Lydia Anderson had two points.
Kristen Dickison led the Bulldogs with 18 points — with 13 of those coming in the first half — and added seven rebounds and four steals. Rachel Thompson had seven points and seven rebounds and Olivia Brown had six points and five rebounds.
And even though the game ended up being a 14-point loss, Roose knows that it was still a 32-30 game midway through the fourth quarter, with Waynesville adding to its lead late in the game from the free throw line as the Bulldogs were forced to foul in an effort to catch up.
“I think mentally, we have them where we want them. But we have to be more aggressive for four quarters,” Roose said. “We’ve got to make sure that when we are pushing the gas, we’re pushing it for the whole game. We can’t be satisfied being up 21-8 in the first half. We’ve got to make sure we keep plugging and don’t let up.
“Tonight, I think we were satisfied and we let up, and they worked harder than we did. And that’s something we have to shore up. We have another game Saturday against Madison, and we’ve got to be sure we battle for four quarters.”
Milton-Union will look to snap its two-game skid against Madison Saturday.
Josh Brown is the Sports Editor of the Troy Daily News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.