Hillside didn’t look at the number in front of its name when preparing to face top-seeded Millbrook in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A East regional semifinal Thursday.
What mattered was the numbers on the scoreboard after the final buzzer, as the No. 5 Hornets took a 70-55 win over the two-time defending state champion Millbrook at Fayetteville’s Crown Coliseum.
“It doesn’t matter who we play. The only thing that matters is how we play,” Hillside coach Ovester Grays said. “I knew we had a good enough team and a deep enough team that if we play our game, we can compete with any team in the state.”
Hillside, in the 4A East regional round for the first time since 2009, will return to Crown Coliseum to play No. 2 Southeast Raleigh at 4 p.m. Saturday for a chance to return to state finals, where the Hornets fell five years ago.
Hillside senior Zuri White led all scorers with 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a game largely highlighted by underclassmen as the teams started a combined five freshmen. Junior Justine Lyons added 18 for the Hornets.
Millbrook freshmen Dazia Powell and Sis Norman led the Wildcats with 17 and 12 points, respectively. Another freshman, Kai Crutchfield added nine and six steals.
“I don’t think anybody really gave us a chance to do what we did and to take a team this young and make it all the way to the Eastern semifinals, I think it’s pretty impressive,” Millbrook coach Chris East said. “Could we have played a better game? Most definitely without a doubt. Did we do some things that were uncharacteristic of us? Most definitely without a doubt, but I’ll take this Millbrook squad any day.”
Powell scored the first six points of the game, but Hillside answered with a 14-4 run to lead after one quarter and never looked back.
Millbrook turned the ball over 18 times in the first half allowing the Hornets to finish with 22 points off of turnovers. Hillside also took advantage of second-chance shots – taking a 19-6 advantage in the game.
Despite a whirlwind final minute of the third quarter that included a 30-second 6-0 Wildcats run and momentum swing, Millbrook still found itself down by eight entering the final period.
The Wildcats fouled to stop the clock for much of the final period, and while Hillside shot just 13 of 27 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter, Millbrook couldn’t close the gap.
“I think the things that we did not do well we can fix,” said East, who had coached Millbrook to the past three East regional titles. “We’re going to start working on next season. We’ll be back.”