Jackson-Milton defeats Dalton, heads to first-ever regional final

MASSILLON — A year ago, the Jackson-Milton girls basketball team made its first regionals appearance in school history. On Thursday night, it made even more history by winning its first regional game in school history.

The Blue Jays defeated the Dalton Bulldogs, 44-40, in a Division IV Massillon Regional semifinal at Perry High School. Jackson-Milton will face Berlin Hiland-the No. 1 team in the state, in the regional final Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

“We knew that they (Dalton) play hard, they’re tough and everybody’s asking, ‘What do you think?’ I watched three films of them, and they’re up in your face, they play defense,” Blue Jays coach Pat Keney said. “It’s a matter of who’s lucky at the end of the game, and who can get the ball to fall in.”

The Bulldogs trailed by six, early in the third, before a 6-0 run which included 4-of-6 free-throw shooting and a basket from Caitlyn Hoth to tie the game at 26.

Jackson-Milton then called a timeout with 4:22 in the third, and stormed out of the timeout with a 6-0 run of its own.

Ashley Totani drove to the basket to regain the lead, while Michaelina Terranova had a pair of fastbreak layup’s to extend the lead to 32-26.

The Blue Jays led, 35-31, to start the fourth, when the Bulldogs pulled back within one, 37-36. Jackson-Milton once again responded, however.

The Blue Jays put together the game-defining sequence when it went on a 7-0 run, midway through the fourth.

Emily Williams’ putback was followed by a Terranova lay-in and finally, a corner 3 from Ashley Totani. Dalton cut it to four with 1:26 to go, but a pair of missed 3-pointers allowed the Blue Jays to hang on.

“I was praying,” Keney said of the tight game down the stretch, laughing. “We were lucky to make some turnovers and get a run back on them. We left about 15 points on the board.”

Terranova made a pair of buckets in the final three minutes of the first quarter to put the Blue Jays ahead, 11-5, going into the second quarter.

Dalton (20-7), who has played stingy defense throughout the tournament much like Jackson-Milton, tried to eliminate the Blue Jays’ outside shooting and force the ball inside.

Terranova and freshman Abigail Spalding certainly did their part, as Spalding led the team with eight points in the first half.

All of Spalding’s points came in the second quarter, as she opened the quarter with a layup off the glass, before knocking in a putback off of her own miss.

Two more Spalding buckets put the Blue Jays ahead by six, 22-16, at the break. Terranova led the team with 14 points, while Emily Williams had nine of her own.

Jackson-Milton (23-3) now advances to the regional semifinals for the first time ever, and are just one win away from state.

“I’ve been coaching for 27 years and it’s awesome,” Keney said, smiling. “(Berlin Hiland is) No. 1 in the state, they’re tough. We just gotta come and play as hard as we can play and see what happens.”