MILFORD — The free throw column was unkind to Fillmore Central in a rock 'em, sock 'em bruiser of a SNC girls title game Saturday.
The Panthers of Coach Mark Madison went to the line 13 times and made six against the Milford Eagles, who had home court advantage for the Southern Nebraska Conference championship. The Eagles toed the mark more than twice as many times, shot 15-27 and won on free throws.
The nine-point difference was just enough for Milford to win a screamer by seven, 38-31.
The Panthers took far more shots from two than the Eagles, 37-18 according to FC stats, but hit only eight for 21.6 percent. Milford was 44.4 percent from two and also hit eight.
The Panthers held the edge from behind the arc at three makes to two for the Eagles, leaving the matter to be decided at the line.
Madison was heartsick for his team with the loss.
“The girls fought hard all season and shot horribly on the wrong night,” he said. “It's too bad they've had the season they've had and don't have a conference championship to show for it. I have to say the loss was the worst I have ever felt coaching,” he added. “I really wanted it for them.”
The Panthers certainly started hot from the field, shooting 100 percent in taking a 5-0 lead. The first shot of the game by Macy Jones went in for three and the second, off the fingertips of Christa Scott, was good for two.
Two shots, two makes … but it wasn't to last.
By the end of the first period the Eagles were up two, 11-9 and at halftime it was still a one-point game, 17-16 Milford, despite an offensive rebound and a scoring drive through traffic by Rachel Hoarty, who topped all scorers with 15 points in the Panther cause.
The Eagles went ahead 20-16 a minute into the third period when senior Haley Moore hit a three.
Hoarty answered from three on FC's next possession, then hit a two ahead of another trey from Jones. Two Lindsey Maloley free throws posted the Panthers to a 26-23 lead at 1:55 of the third.
The Eagles got a two ahead of the buzzer, but FC still led by one, 26-25, through three periods.
Two Eagle free throws tied it at 27-all early in the fourth, a field goal gave Milford a two-point cushion and the Panthers never led again.
Two Hoarty drives kept it a two-point game at 31-29 and again at 33-31. Hoarty got a steal, but FC couldn't convert and two Milford free throws made it 35-31. A travel call on the Panthers with a minute to go cost FC a badly-needed possession and the Eagles hit 3-4 at the line in the final 30 seconds to eke out the victory.
Rebounds favored Milford by 10 grabs, 35-25, but steals (14-2) and turnovers (16-7) both favored the Panthers.
Fillmore Central (19-2) visits Sandy Creek (14-6) tonight. The Panthers have defeated the Cougars twice so far this season. The FC season ends at home Thursday against Gibbon.
Milford (17-2) wraps up its regular season campaign Friday at Sandy Creek.
Fillmore Central (19-2) ................... 9 7 10 5—31
Milford (17-2) .................... 11 6 8 13—38
Fillmore Central (31) – E. Krienert 0 0-1 0, A. Malone 0 2-3 2, B. Rasmussen 1 0-0 2, M. Jones 2 (2) 0-0 6, L. Maloley 1 2-2 4, C. Scott 1 0-0 2, R. Hoarty 6 (1) 2-7 15. Totals – 11 (3) 6-13 31.
Milford (38) – A. Kontor 1 (1) -2 3, B. Troyer 1 0-0 2, M. Millikan 2 9-13 13, B. Anderson 1 2-2 4, H. Moore 3 (2) 3-5 11, B. Roth 1 1-2 3, A. Walla 1 0-1 2, A. Oborny 0 0-2 0. Totals – 10 (3) 15-27 38.