Girls’ basketball powers ready for ‘RDU Rumble’

cbest@newsobserver.comMarch 5, 2014 

Millbrook girls’ basketball coach Chris East has dubbed Thursday night’s 4A Eastern Regional girls’ games as the “RDU Rumble.”

Traditional Triangle powers Millbrook, Southeast Raleigh and Durham Hillside join a somewhat upstart Durham Riverside squad in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A regional semifinals at the Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville.

Millbrook (24-3) meets Hillside (23-5) at 7 p.m., then Southeast (24-2) takes on Riverside (19-8) in the nightcap (8:30). The winners battle for a spot in the state finals Saturday at 4. Chapel Hill, an undefeated 3A power, plays Cameron Union Pines at 5:30 in a game that was postponed Tuesday.

Millbrook won the past two state 4A titles but has a young team this year.

Seniors Jaylaan Dillard, Destinie Dunn and Ajae Grisby help lead a squad that includes five talented freshmen: Kai Crutchfield, Sis Norman, Daria Powell, Kiara Rochelle and Zairya West.

“This has been a totally different experience,” said East, who had eight seniors sign after the 2013 season. “But these kids get after it. So many little things have happened that have surprised me this season. We’re young, but that can be a bad thing and a good thing in a situation like this.”

Crutchfield and Powell have done the bulk of Millbrook’s scoring. Dillard is the Wildcats’ third-leading scorer.

“They’re used to the big stage,” East said of the freshman class. “This stage is different, but they’ve played for an AAU national championship and that’s helped them a lot this season. Off the court, we jelled fairly well and have gotten great senior leadership.”

The Wildcats are familiar with Southeast – having beaten the Bulldogs in last year’s regional championship game –and East knows what to expect from Hillside. He had never met Riverside coach Alicia Jones before this week.

Veteran Hillside coach Ovester Grays knows his team will have to play its style – heavy defensive pressure and aggressive offense.

“We’re going to feed off of our defensive pressure and get out fast on offense,” Grays said.

The Hornets average an impressive 66.7 points a game, while Millbrook allows only 36.4 points.

Junior Justine Lyon leads Hillside with 16.6 points per game, followed by seniors Tykyrah Williams (11.4) and Zuri White (10.8).

Southeast, which has won 14 straight, lost to Millbrook in the 2013 regional final.

“We’ve got experience coming back,” said Southeast coach Nicole Meyers. “We’re motivated by last year and have a lot to prove to ourselves.”

The Bulldogs have never played Riverside. The Pirates won high-scoring games (70-62 against Cary and 76-56 against Fayetteville Smith) to advance to the quarterfinals.

“You know anybody you play at a regional is capable of being a championship team,” Meyers said. “And they’re playing their best basketball of the season right now. You know whoever you’re playing, it’s going to be a big challenge to win.”

Southeast, led by three seniors and two juniors, allows just 32.1 points a game and held five opponents to fewer than 20 points this season.

Junior 5-foot-11 guard/forward Amber Richardson has verbally committed to N.C. State. Jade Phillips is another 5-11 junior. They start along with seniors Alexus Hicks, Tiffany McCarter and Taiyana Hill.

Riverside, led by Alicia Jones, beat fellow regional qualifier Hillside two out of three times this season but lost its last meeting with the Hornets by 22 points. The Pirates haven’t had a winning streak of longer than five games but have thrived in the playoffs after falling to Durham Jordan in the conference tournament semifinals.

A trio of players handle most of the scoring for Riverside: senior Kiara Jacobs (10.6 PPG), junior Mone’ Jones (9.8) and sophomore Zaria Rogers (9.1).

Jacobs hit five 3-pointers in the Pirates’ third-round victory, which opened up the paint some for the post players.

“We’ve finally started to play in the playoffs as a unit,” said Riverside coach Jones. “We’re relying on each others’ strengths and as individuals more focused on what we need to do to help the team right now to win.”

Best: 919-524-8895; Twitter: @dclaybest

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