CLAYTON — It was not the season the Milton-Union boys basketball team planned or hoped for.
But, the Bulldogs always played with the heart of champions.
And their final game Thursday night in Northmont D-III sectional action was no exception.
The Bulldogs rallied from an eight-point deficit after three quarters and held a three-point lead late before losing 46-44 to Versailles.
Milton-Union closes the season at 13-11.
“Things didn’t go exactly the way we expected,” Milton-Union coach Rusty Berner — who became the winningest coach in the program’s history this season — said. “Some of that was injury (star guard Blake Brumbaugh missed 10 games with a foot injury).
“But, I thought tonight was a snapshot of our season. We hang around and hang around and we just keep battling.”
The Bulldogs had won a double overtime game with Valley View just to keep the season going.
And they weren’t going down without a fight Thursday night.
Versailles took a 34-26 lead to the fourth quarter.
Zach Lovin opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer.
Brumbaugh — getting extended playing time for the first time since early January — hit a jumper and when Tyler Kress drove and converted a three-point play, the Bulldogs were within 36-34.
A Cooper Brown basket tied the game 36-36 with 5:09 to play.
Connor Stonebraker would answer with four straight points for Versailles, but it would take just two possessions for Milton to take the lead.
Connor Yates was fouled on a putback of an offensive rebounds and converted the three-point play with 3:43 to go to cut the deficit to 40-39.
“That was a tough assignment (going up against 6-foot-8 Connor Stonebraker),” Berner said. “That is a really good high school basketball player. Connor (Yates) missed some shots early, but he just kept coming.”
Then Cooper Brown did what he does.
First, he was fouled and hit two of three free throws to give Milton-Union a 41-40 lead with 3:23 to go.
On the Bulldogs next possession, he made a behind the back pass to give Yates an easy basket to put Milton in front 43-40.
“Cooper Brown is a kid who is going to find a way to make a play when you need it,” Berner said.
But, Versailles wasn’t going away either.
Stonebraker hit one of two free throws with 1:36 to go and AJ Griesdorn scored to tie it at 43 with 1:07 to go.
Versailles got the ball back and Stonebraker made two free throws with 26.2 seconds to go to give the Tigers a 45-43 lead.
After a Milton-Union miss, Lucas Stammen was fouled with 4.7 seconds to go.
Stammen hit the first free throw to make it 46-43, but missed the second.
Cooper Brown was streaking down the court for a potential game-tying 3-pointer when Versailles grabbed his arm to stop him at midcourt with 1.7 seconds left.
He made the first free throw and intentionally missed the second, but Versailles got the ball on a violation and ran the clock out.
“You know, Versailles hasn’t lost a sectional game in seven years,” Berner said. “They beat Marion Local. That is a good team.”
Cooper Brown had 19 points, nine rebounds and three steals for the Bulldogs and Yates had 13 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots.
Kress added five points.
Stonebraker led all scorers with 25 points.
Griesdorn added eight points and Drake Ahrens scored six points.
“You know, a lot of seniors go out with a blow out (loss),” Berner said. “I would rather have a game like this. Where it is a battle to the end.”
Which was the only fitting way for a team with Milton-Union’s heart and character to have its season end.
You can reach Sports Editor Rob Kiser at [email protected]