By Josh Brown
Miami Valley Today
VANDALIA — As the Milton-Union boys basketball team posed with its district runner-up medals and trophy for pictures to post on social media, coach Rusty Berner pointed something out.
“I told the kids the last time we got to put hardware around our neck, if you would’ve said ‘tweet,’ you would’ve thought you were talking about birds,” he said. “Social media wasn’t around. Because that was two decades ago.”
And while the Bulldogs made their first district final appearance since 1999, they couldn’t withstand a first-half shooting barrage from long range by Cincinnati Deer Park as the Wildcats hit eight 3-pointers in the first half to help build a big lead and hand Milton-Union a 77-38 defeat in the Division III district final Saturday at Butler High School.
Deer Park improved to 22-1, winning its 17th straight and advancing to the regional semifinal round. And even though the loss hurt, Milton-Union still finished the season 16-9 — the team’s best year since winning 14 games in 2012-13.
“I told the kids when they were getting that picture taken to smile, because this is a picture you’re going to look back on with a great amount of pride,” Berner said. “Because over time, they’ll really embrace how big of a deal this was for our program.”
As for the game itself, the Wildcats put it out of reach early on with its 3-point shooting display, with four different players combining to hit six straight in the first quarter to shoot Deer Park out to a 32-15 lead after one.
“Gameplan-wise, we knew their strength was getting out in transition and pressuring, so sometimes, against really good teams, you’ve got to pick a poison,” Berner said. “Our gameplan was to make them be a perimeter team — and, well, 6 for 7 (from 3-point range) in the first quarter, 8 for 11 in the first half. Our kids were playing hard, following the gameplan, we’re handling their pressure fairly well, but for them to come out and shoot like that really disrupts things from a confidence standpoint.”
That forced the Bulldogs to abandon their zone defense and go man-to-man in the second quarter, which did only allow the Wildcats to hit two more 3s in the second quarter. But Deer park forced 14 Milton-Union turnovers, eight in the second quarter alone, getting out in transition and converting to take a 51-22 lead.
Adding to the Bulldogs’ problems was two starters, Blake Brumbaugh and Brandon Lavy, missing most of the second and third quarters in early foul trouble.
“That kind of goes back to us having to come out of our comfort zone and having to play man a bit more,” Berner said. “Their speed and athleticism really did affect us, got us into a bit of foul trouble, which isn’t a good thing.”
Deer Park got a free throw late in the third to take a 69-34 lead into the fourth quarter, turning on the running clock per the OHSAA’s postseason mercy rule. As time vanished in the final quarter, both teams emptied their benches with about two minutes to go.
Steven Gentry Jr. led all scorers with 21 points and four assists as Deer Park had four players in double figures. Tre Munson had 19 points, Ani Elliott added 17 points, five rebounds and five blocked shots, Gi Jones had 12 points, DeShaun McEntire had six points, nine rebounds and five assists and Julian Anderson had two points.
Sam Case led the Bulldogs with 14 points and three rebounds, hitting four of the team’s five 3s on the day. Blake Brumbaugh added eight points and three rebounds, Nathan Brumbaugh had seven points, six rebounds, five assists and three blocks, Justin Randall had six and Andrew Lambert had three points, five rebounds and two assists.
“I was proud of our kids. We got down early, but they battled for four quarters,” Berner said. “That’s not an easy thing to do against a really good team that was shooting the way they were tonight, who couldn’t seem to do anything wrong shooting the basketball. I mean, at one point in the first quarter, they’d missed more free throws than they’d missed 3s.
“Hats off to them. They came up here and shot the ball extremely well. I was proud of the way our kids battled. Our effort was fantastic, they followed our gameplan, they played as a team, and I felt for the most part we controlled the things we could. Sometimes you just can’t control a team shooting the lights out.”
And even though the season didn’t end the way they wanted, it was a big one for the Bulldogs — who only won a total of eight games during the three-year stretch before winning eight in the 2018-19 season. This year alone, the Bulldogs matched that entire four-season run with 16 wins, including their first two tournament wins since the 2013-14 season.
“When you lose your tournament game, you immediately just think about the loss,” Berner said. “But for us, we’ve got to look at the process. We won 16 basketball games this year. We went to the district finals. We had a big year.”
It was also the last game in the careers of the Bulldogs’ five seniors: Nathan Brumbaugh, Lavy, Nick Radcliff, Billy Grieshop and Webb Kress.
“We’ve been building for years from the ground up, and we’re excited for the future,” Berner said. “We celebrate our seniors. For those guys to fight through the adversity of some of those low years, and to end the way they did, was outstanding. And now, we return four of our top seven, our JV team was 18-4 and our freshmen were, I believe, 12-4. Definitely excited about that and the fact that basketball is important right now in our community and school district.
“I told our seniors that they set the bar. It should be an expectation now to get to this district game every year. When we did it 22 years ago, we got to district and lost, then the very next year they returned to district and won. That’s what good programs do, they keep building and growing. It was definitely a great year, and we’re excited about the guys moving forward, too.”
Contact Josh Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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