The Milford boys’ basketball team earned a spot in the Class C1 state tournament Feb. 25 by beating Cozad 58-35 in the District C1-6 final.
“The kids really played well,” Coach Tony Muller said. “Our offense executed so good. We got all the loose balls and made nice plays.”
The Eagles led 6-0 early, but Cozad cut that to one at 6-5. An 8-2 run finished the quarter and gave MHS a 14-7 lead. The Eagles allowed just eight second-quarter points, and three of those came on a buzzer beater and the end of the period, Muller said.
Milford finished with 35 rebounds and limited Cozad to 20. Muller said that was one of the focuses going in to the game – give them just one shot.
The Milford defense kept Cozad’s three-point shooters off balance, as well. The Haymakers were 7-26 from beyond the arc, but two of those came in the final couple minutes of the game and one was the aforementioned buzzer beater.
“Cozad really couldn’t get loaded up for three,” Muller said.
The 1-3-1 defense was a big reason for that, he said. Cozad’s point guard, who likes to penetrate deep into the lane and then either shoot or pass to an open teammate for three, couldn’t get to the lane against the zone.
Bragen Meyer, Nate Mensik and Grant Jakub reached double figures for Milford, with 17, 15 and 11 points, respectively. Mensik added nine rebounds, and Meyer delivered seven assists.
The Eagles (21-5) will play in the state tournament for the first time since 2012 and for the fifth time since 1998.
“It’s really hard to get there,” Muller said. “It comes down to eight go.”
The Class C1 state tournament starts Thursday, March 7. Ogallala, Wahoo, Auburn, North Bend, Adams Central, Grand Island Central Catholic and Boys Town also won their districts.
Milford, the No. 8 seed, will play Ogallala in the opening round Thursday, March 7, at 2 p.m. at the Devaney Sports Center. Ogallala is 26-0 coming into the tournament.
Milford reached the district final with wins over Raymond Central 69-22 and Malcolm 53-32 in the subdistrict tournament.
Coach Tony Muller said Raymond Central’s three-point shooting was a concern entering the Feb. 20 game. The Mustangs had made 12 three-pointers Feb. 15, so Muller said the Eagles needed to contest the shots.
Raymond Central made two three-pointers in the first quarter, but the Eagle defense held RCHS to just one basket in the second quarter.
Milford led 22-11 after the first quarter and 46-15 at halftime. The second half was more of the same, as Milford limited RCHS to three points in the third quarter and four in the fourth.
Muller was able to rest his starters in the second half, giving the bench opportunities to play.
Mensik scored 21 points to lead Milford. Seth Stutzman added 12 and Meyer scored 10 points and delivered 10 assists for a double double. Jakub grabbed eight rebounds, as well.
Milford outrebounded Raymond Central 40-19 and had 19 offensive rebounds. MHS committed nine turnovers and forced 21.
In the subdistrict final, Milford missed some easy shots and trailed 24-23 at halftime. Muller said the Clippers’ Nate Kuhn and Dylan Johnson scored 16 of the team’s first-half points.
In the third quarter, the Milford defense held Malcolm scoreless and built a 40-24 lead. Mensik scored 17 points, 10 in the first half. Meyer added 11 points and seven assists, and Stutzman scored 10.
In the third quarter alone, Stutzman scored eight and Isaac Yeackley and Nate Hostetler added three points each.
Muller said the team’s output came from a nice blend of its guards and forwards.
“We got a lot of production from a lot of people,” Muller said.
The Eagles were 14-20 at the free throw line, while Malcolm was 5-8. Milford also controlled the boards, grabbing 35 rebounds (19 offensive) to Malcolm’s 24 (five offensive).