MILTON, Ga. — Within Milton’s gym, a 15-foot high quote from OG Mandino towers over the court, stating, “I will persist until I succeed.”
In a season full of challenges, crucial loses and changes for the Milton Eagles, the team seemed to take the quote to heart.
This season saw Milton lose eight of its first 12 games, have its head coach step down midseason all while the team tried to find its identity all year. Through it all, the Eagles still captured a region championship.
Milton beat Lambert, previously 11-0 against Region 5-AAAAAAA opponents, 81-70 last Friday at home to capture its first region championship since 2008.
Lambert had swept the regular season series between the teams, but with the region title at stake and Milton playing on its home court, the Eagles played aggressive all night to earn the win.
“The kids have been through adversity but I told them wins cure a lot of ills,” said Milton head coach Sean Revels, who took over for Matt Kramer in January. “We were on a four-game win streak and I knew the momentum was good and I knew this is where they wanted to be and they worked hard to get here.”
“This is the biggest win of the year for us,” Revels said. “We told them we wanted to win the region championship but we have to beat the best team, and they did that tonight.”
In the last meeting between the teams on Jan. 27, Lambert’s 3-point shooting was crucial to the Longhorns’ 95-86 win.
Revels said his team entered the region championship game with a plan to attack the rim and keeping Lambert from shooting threes.
“They are a three-point shooting team and they spread the ball out. We knew that if we kept them from shooting threes we knew they couldn’t beat us matching two point shots,” Revels said.
“The ball was real fluid for our offense and we attacked. I told the guys I don’t care how many deuces we miss, we have to attack the rim. Alex O’Connell got us going.”
O’Connell earned a double-double for the Eagles, scoring 16 with 11 rebounds. He was named the region Player of the Year after the game.
Milton freshman Christian Wright had a remarkable game for the Eagles, scoring 21 points with seven rebounds, five assists and two steals.
“Christian Wright was just special. He is a special freshman voted all-region by the coaches and that was because of his performance tonight,” Revels said.
Sophomore Donaven Hairston scored 19 points with two steals and a block.
Lambert was led in scoring by junior Austin Deckard who put up 17 points. Fellow juniors Jordan McIlwain scored 15 and Damon Stoudamire scored 13.
Milton’s plan of attacking the rim resulted in the Eagles opening a 30-20 lead in the second quarter. Lambert fought back multiple times but would ultimately never lead the game.
Milton led by seven with two minutes remaining when Lambert began to foul. Wright, O’Connell and Hairston all stepped to the free-throw line and kept Lambert at bay by netting free throws.
Revels said he believes the momentum of the region championship win will carry on to the state tournament. Milton will face Brookwood in the opening round this Saturday.
In losing the region title game, Lambert will enter the state tournament as the No. 2 seed and faces Parkview in the first round.
South Forsyth took down West Forsyth in the consolation game. South will face Berkmar and West will go on the road against Norcross to open the state tournament this weekend.