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Panthers Fall In SNC Final; Defeat Cougars, Mustangs

For the first time in a dozen years, the Fillmore Central boys found themselves in the finals of the 2016 SNC Basketball Tournament.  And despite coming into the February 8 contest on an 11-game win streak and the tourney's top seed, the Panthers fell behind hot-shooting Milford and could never quite catch up.  The Eagles prevailed 65-58 in the match-up of top seeds.

Using an aggressive man defense, Class C-1, 16-3 Milford led the contest at Centennial High School 9-2 early and 14-9 at the first-quarter break.  The Eagles seemed to pounce on every loose ball and ran its outside shooting-based offense to perfection in racing out to a 31-20 advantage at intermission.
"It was nice to get off to a good start tonight," Milford coach Tony Muller said.  "It gave us some confidence.  It looked like things were going to click for us tonight right from the start."
Panther coach Jim Rose said he was very disappointed how the finals started.  FC (17-3 in Class C-2) came into the contest after a blow-out win over Superior and a convincing 15-point victory over Sutton in the semi-finals.
"They got off to a good start because we allowed them to," Rose said.  "We couldn't match their intensity.  Ball security...not playing hard was lots of things."
Behind a stellar game-high 26 points from Leyton Hopken, FC cut the Eagle margin to just six, 35-29, early in the third quarter.  A stolen inbound pass had the score 40-35 later in the period.  A Kole Karcher 3-pointer from a Hopken assist had the score 43-40 with the Panther press working.
A helter-skelter ending to the third period, involving turnovers and Eagle treys from the corner, had Milford leading the contest 49-40 going into the final quarter.  The Eagles scored the last six points of the stanza.
"We really starting hitting the 3-pointers the other night when we had 10," Muller said.  "The kids were doing a good job of picking the alley...knowing when to penetrate and kicking it out.  You don't get to play in too many finals and I think we played good man-to-man defense all night which seemed to fluster them some."
Milford was 5-for-13 (36 percent) from beyond the arc and shot a lights-out 52 percent (23-for-44) for the game.  The Eagles were also a solid 70 percent (14-for-20) from the free-throw line.  The Panthers were only able to muster a 39-percent shooting performance (19-for-48) last Monday.
FC swished in back-to-back treys in the fourth period to make the score 51-46.  A traditional Hopken 3-point play had the score 53-49 with about three minutes left.  The score was 58-54 with two minutes remaining in the contest.
"We had it down to three and three trips down the court we turned the ball over," Rose said.  "Other times, we just couldn't get a shot.  We just didn't compete tonight.  It's tough to win championships when you decide to not compete.  We didn't seize the will be interesting to see if we learn from this.  It could be the difference for our season."
Hopken also finished the game with a team-high eight rebounds, six assists and three steals.  Matt Hogue scored six points in the loss and snagged three rebounds.  Both Noah Temme and Nate Rasmussen netted five points.  Temme ripped down three boards.  Adam Hoarty and Garrett Whitley both added four points and Karcher and Tanner Ourada both scored three.  Aaron Poppert added a pair of free throws.  Quinlan Kelley and Jaidon Policky both tossed in 16 points to pace Milford.
On Tuesday, February 9, the Panthers downed Sandy Creek 73-59.  FC lead 43-29 at halftime in the home contest.
Hopken and Hoarty both tossed in 22 points for the winners.  Temme added 10 points and Whitley scored nine.  Poppert added four points and Karcher, Ourada and Rasmussen all scored two.  Hopken added eight assists and six steals to his night, while Hoarty grabbed eight rebounds.
On Friday, February 12, FC shot 62 percent from the floor (18-for-29) en route to a 54-41 victory at Sutton. The Panthers led 23-17 at the break.
Hopken led all scorers with 18 points and eight rebounds. The senior also dished out nine assists and made two steals.  Whitley canned three 3-pointers for an 11-points scoring night. Poppert and Rasmussen both scored seven points.  Hoarty added six points and Karcher scored three.  Temme added a bucket in the road win.
After 20 games, Hopken is averaging 19.3 points per contest and 6.8 rebounds.  Hoarty is also in double figures with 10.1 points per game.