“When a team plays an aggressive zone defense, like Milford did, it should open things up for the inside game,’’ Salt Fork coach Andrew Johnson said. “We kept emphasizing at timeouts and during any stoppage of play, to find Max inside. I think I said ‘find Max’ at least 20 times in that quarter.
“Not only did he do a good job of capitalizing on his opportunities in the second half, but he also did a good job of hitting the boards. He created opportunities for himself.’’
And not to be overlooked, Stutsman also had five blocked shots — four of them in the second half for the Storm.
But Milford coach John Spezia said he expected that kind of game from Stutsman, the difference for him was Learnard and Taylor hitting 10-of-21 shots, including five 3-pointers.
“Those guys are three seniors and they should come out and do what they did tonight,’’ he said. “But, it was Learnard and Taylor hitting those shots from the outside that really opened things up for them.
“We didn’t do a good job of finding those guys.’’
So with that in mind, Spezia pulled out a triangle-and-2 defense in the third quarter.
“Since we could find them in the zone, we had to man them up,’’ he said. “We finally took those guys out of it and then Stutsman picks it up.’’
Salt Fork, which improves to 24-8 on the season, led by as much as nine points (41-32) midway through the fourth quarter. Milford, the top-seeded team in the regional, battled back, pulling within three points (46-43) on a basket by Jacob Rogers with 1 minute, 31 seconds left in the contest.
The Storm made just enough free throws — three of five — in the final minute to secure the regional title on their home court.
“When you host a regional. You have to take advantage of it, so it was nice to have the crowd and be in your comfort zone,’’ Johnson said. “These seniors didn’t want to be done yet. We didn’t win the conference, we didn’t win the County and we came up short in the Christmas tournament.