BY MIKE URSERY
It’s not common to see a high school basketball team shoot just under 60 percent for an entire game.
The Milan Wildcats did it, shooting 59 percent from the floor in an 89-79 win over the Harrisburg Bulldogs in the sectional round of the Class 2 MSHSAA state playoffs on Feb. 28.
The previous week, the Wildcats had won their first district title in program history. The sectional round game, held at Mexico High School in Mexico, Missouri, was the biggest stage Milan had played on. They weren’t phased by the consequence of losing in a single-elimination playoff game, nor were they rattled by the raucous Harrisburg crowd sitting on one side of the gym.
The Wildcats played through an eight-point deficit with 7:49 to go in the fourth quarter. Harrisburg senior guard Cade Combs scored the first bucket of the fourth quarter, giving his team a 64-56 advantage.
What followed was an 18-0 run by the Wildcats. Harrisburg failed to score for nearly five minutes, while Milan reeled off 18 straight points.
That 18-0 run took Milan from an eight point deficit to a 10-point lead. The score was 74-64 with 2:54 left in the game.
The Wildcats were 7-for-10 from the field in the fourth quarter, as well as 17-for-20 from the free throw line.
“We wanted to take away (Ryan Dabney) and (Hunter Shaw),” Harrisburg head coach Kyle Fisher said about his team’s game plan. “They’re the best two players, and tip your cap to those two guys. They did a great job tonight.”
Fisher said the difference in the game for Milan was the play from their “supporting cast,” saying they stepped up and made shots.
Shaw, a sophomore, finished with a game-high 33 points. Dabney contributed 18 points to the Wildcats’ effort.
Milan shot 57 percent in the first half. Harrisburg also fared decently from the floor, shooting 46 percent.
The Bulldogs took their first lead with 3:33 left in the first quarter when senior Cade Combs hit a 3-pointer to make the score 10-7.
Milan junior Marcus Diaz answered with a 3-pointer to tie the game at the 3:10 mark. Freshman Dominic Dabney added a free throw later to make the score 11-10.
Harrisburg regained the lead after five straight points from senior guard Cody Karl. He scored a basket on a floater. With 1:48 left in the opening period, he made a steal and took it the other way for a layup. He was fouled on the play, and made the free throw to complete the 3-point play.
Milan came up with a 5-0 run of their own, thanks to five straight points from Shaw. The score was 15-16. That lead didn’t last long, however, as Karl hit a 3-pointer to put Harrisburg back in front.
Shaw put Milan ahead with :02 left in the first quarter. He hit a 3-pointer to make the score 21-20. It was already an intense atmosphere, what one would expect from a high school playoff game. It was only the end of the first period.
Harrisburg again shot 6-for-13 from the field in the second half. On the other side, Milan shot an astonishing 73 percent, going 8-for-11.
Despite that shooting performance, Harrisburg trailed by only four points at halftime. Senior guard Scott Hill hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give his team momentum going into the locker room.
The momentum the Bulldogs seized just before the half carried over into the third quarter. A 14-5 run put them in front 53-48 with 4:19 to go in the period.
The Wildcats didn’t fare as well in the third quarter, shooting 4-for-11. The Bulldogs shot 50 percent, 7-for-14, and held a 62-56 lead when the period ended.
“We were defending well,” Fisher said. “We were getting to shooters. Offensively, we were moving the ball really well and getting good looks. In the fourth quarter, we got those same looks and just didn’t knock them down.”
Harrisburg shot 4-for-14 in the fourth quarter. Milan shot 4-for-7, but went 17-for-19 at the free throw line during the period.
The Bulldogs went more than five-and-a-half minutes without a point during the fourth quarter. They led 64-56 with 7:49 remaining, before a 16-0 run over that span gave them a 77-66 lead.
Fisher called a timeout with a minute to go to give a curtain call to his seniors. They departed, with tears flowing, as they exited their final game.
“There’s nothing I can say right now to make these guys feel better,” Fisher said. “What these eight seniors have done, I told those guys that they’re truely Harrisburg basketball royalty. That was a great class, and I’m just so proud of them.”
Those eight seniors were a part of the team that rode a hot streak to the Class 2 Show-Me Showdown last season. That same team won a share of the Lewis and Clark Conference title last season.
They won a second straight district title this season, defeating New Bloomfield in the Class 2 District 8 title game on Feb. 24.