FAYETTEVILLE — As Millbrook’s girls’ basketball team prepared for the 2012-13 season, the school had already started a countdown to the state championship game at Chapel Hill’s Dean Smith Center.
That count is now down to less than a week, as the Wildcats rolled past Southeast Raleigh, 58-39, in the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 4A East regional finals Saturday at Crown Coliseum.
For many of the team’s players, the wait has been much longer.
Millbrook, headed to its third consecutive state championship game, remembers the last game it played at the Dean Dome.
The Wildcats lost in the 2011 title game there before winning last year’s championship at N.C. State’s Reynolds Coliseum.
Several of the team’s players, sophomores in 2011, are now seniors looking to go out on top to cap their high school careers.
“It seems like we have unfinished business at Chapel Hill since we went there our sophomore year and lost,” said tournament MVP Briana Day, who led all scorers with 20 points. “So now we’re just trying to bring it home all the way.”
Millbrook (32-0) dominated from tipoff, never trailing, and quickly pushing its lead into double digits in the first half.
Southeast Raleigh (29-1) struggled to get anything going offensively. Outside shots weren’t falling, and the Wildcats’ defense crowded the lane.
“We expected them to be big, and we knew that they would come out with intensity and be ready to play because we know they have a strong desire to get back to the state championship game,” said Southeast Raleigh coach Nicole Sampson Meyers. “I give them a lot of credit because they’re a great team and I think their senior leadership was key in the way they played, but I just don’t think we showed true Southeast basketball today. I think they had something to do with it, but we also didn’t start attacking until it was a little bit too late.”
Millbrook held the Bulldogs to 23 percent shooting in the first half and less than 30 percent for the game.
Millbrook coach Chris East knew defense would be key in the Wildcats’ quest to advance to the big game.
“We had a pretty good scout of them and saw some game film of them,” he said. “We did an excellent job for the most part of getting over top of screens that we knew were coming, and when these kids do that, we’re pretty tough to beat.”
Southeast Raleigh, which scored 83 points in its semifinal win over Fayetteville 71st, was held to less than half that total Saturday.
The Bulldogs were led by all-tournament team selection junior Alexus Hicks with 12 points. Sophomore Amber Richardson added eight.
Despite losing five seniors, Southeast Raleigh will return eight players and three starters next year.
“I think we have a good nucleus returning that will be battle tested, and think this game right here will benefit us next year,” Meyers said.
East said he’s just glad to have one more week to spend with the eight Millbrook seniors who will all play basketball at the collegiate level.
The players want to go out with a bang.
“It’s exciting, because who wouldn’t want to end their high school career with another championship. Not only one, but two,” said Ryan Flowers, who recorded a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds.
Flowers was also named to the all-tournament team, along with teammates Mykia Jones and Alex Tomlinson.