Pilots’ season over after 76-70 loss to Midland

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Another game of subpar shooting coupled with a beat-up interior brought the Bethel College men's basketball team's season to an end in a 76-70 loss against Midland in the quarterfinals of the NAIA Tournament on March 15. Senior forward Pat Oetting's availability was in question before the game after a scary fall during the Pilots' Round of 16 win sent him to the hospital Friday night. Oetting was actually able to start the game, but his availability was limited. His replacement, fellow senior Michael Mislan, was called on to fill the void. The Pilots came out strong against the tenth-ranked Warriors, scoring the game's first six points. However, Midland went on a run of its own and eventually took a 19-9 lead at the 13:49 mark of the first half. The lead would balloon to 17 before the Pilots went on a run of their own. 30b570da24a266c412b4767fb2270203The Pilots cut the Warriors' lead to seven with 4:16 left in the first half, and they kept Midland within reach as the half came to a close. On the last play of the half, a key moment came when the Warriors missed a three, but sophomore Travis Smith was called for a foul, giving the Warriors three free throws. Midland hit two of the three, and took a 41-32 lead into halftime. It was the third straight game of poor first half shooting for the Pilots as they shot 32 percent from the field and 31 percent from three in the first half of Saturday's game. Strong shooting has been the Pilots calling card all season long, but it seemed to escape them at the worst time possible. Great shooting has made up for the Pilots lack of size most of the year, but with Oetting hampered, the Pilots' shooting troubles were especially hurtful. But Oetting wasn't the only senior in the frontcourt for the Pilots. Mislan came in and played  some huge minutes for the Pilots in the second half. Back-to-back buckets from the senior center brought the Pilots within three at the 15:28 mark of the second half. Later, he would give the Pilots their first lead since early in the game with two free throws at the 13:34 mark. After a bucket from Midland, junior sharpshooter Zach Miller had a memorable moment when he hit a three while getting fouled. He hit the free throw to help the Pilots regain the lead at 53-51. Two straight three-point plays from junior Matt Schauss then gave the Pilots their largest lead of the game at 59-53. But the Warriors would not be denied. They went on a 10-3 run to grab a 63-62 lead with eight minutes remaining in the game. Both teams struggled on offense down the stretch, and the score was still 63-62 with 4:43 to go. Then the Pilots regained the lead, and a bucket from senior Brandon Gerber pushed that lead to three with 3:49 left in the game. It seemed like the Pilots would find a way to pull out yet another game where they were not at their best. But the Warriors would not be denied. They scored four straight points of their own to regain the lead at 67-66 with 2:30 left to play. Once again, the Pilots went on a scoring drought at the most inopportune time. Miller missed a three with 1:01 to play, then came the defining moment of the game. Midland scored while getting fouled on the play. They hit their free throw to take a 70-66 lead with less than a minute to play. To the Pilots' credit, they did not give up either. The quickly scored to cut the lead back to two. They then fouled the Warriors with 38.4 seconds to play. Midland once again hit both, and the Pilots once again scored quickly, making it a 72-70 game with 21.1 seconds remaining. The same scenario played out: the Pilots quickly fouled and Midland made both. It was do or die time for the Pilots. Senior Landon Booker drove in the lane and found Mislan on a beautiful pass. Despite being a key all game in Oetting's absence, Mislan missed the layup and sealed the Pilots' fate. They fouled the Warriors again, but it was only a formality at that point. The buzzer sounded, and the Pilots' season was over. With the 76-70 loss, the Pilots were knocked out in the Round of 8 in the NAIA National Tournament as Midland moves on to the Fab Four where they will face Robert Morris. The Pilots were led in scoring by Miller who poured in 17. Schauss led the team in both rebounding (9) and assists (3). Midland had great performances from Ben Inig and Alex Starkel. Inig led all scorers with 22, and Starkel recorded a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds. It was a great year for the Pilots full of many great memories, including Coach Mike Lightfoot's 700th victory. The Pilots finish the year with a 28-8 record. Those 28 wins are the most for a Bethel squad since the 2009-2010 campaign. The Pilots also won their eight Crossroads League Tournament championship, and their second in a row, with a 70-65 win over Grace on March 4. This was the last game for a senior class that performed outstandingly both on and off the court. Landon Booker, Pat Oetting, Michael Mislan, Ryan Benner and Brandon Gerber all played major roles for the Pilots throughout the season. They leave a great legacy behind them. Benner led the Pilots in scoring this season at 18.7 points per game. One of the highlights of the season was when he scored 43 points against Windsor on Dec. 30. With 674 points on the season, Benner finishes his career with 1,665 points - good for no. 18 all-time. Oetting was the team's leading rebounder with six rebounds per game. Over the last month of the season, Oetting was arguably the Pilots' best player. The rest of the team pulling together after Oetting's injury in the Round of 16 will also be one of the lasting memories of the year. He finishes his career with 77 blocks, and is tenth on Bethel's all-time blocks list. Booker came back this season for his fifth year and was a leader all season. His 44 steals led the Pilots for the season. He finishes his career with 189 steals and sits at no. 10 on Bethel's career steals list. Mislan was a key player off the bench all season, especially these last two nights in Oetting's absence, and Gerber was an example of senior leadership throughout the 2013-2014 campaign.        
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