Millbrook’s girls’ basketball team, in its quest for another shot at the state title, made sure to end Sanderson’s impressive run in the NCHSAA 4A playoffs Wednesday night.
The fourth meeting between the two conference teams wasn’t any different than the previous three. By the second quarter, the Wildcats reminded the Spartans of the harsh reality: Millbrook was too strong, too big and too experienced for Sanderson.
All those factors led to the Wildcats’ 53-29 victory in the Eastern Regional semifinal inside Crown Arena.
“We executed our game plan,” Millbrook coach Chris East said. “Our man-to-man defense was pretty good, and we got contributions from everyone.”
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Earlier this season, the Wildcats won the Cap Eight conference regular season and tournament titles. And in the three previous games this season, Millbrook had easily beaten Sanderson.
East said that, along with the experience of playing in the regional semifinal last year, gave the Wildcats an advantage over a mostly young Spartan team.
“We know that we can settle down faster because we had been here before,” Millbrook guard Katelyn Mitchell said.
Defense helped the Wildcats (29-2) find their rhythm.
In its third-round victory last week, Millbrook held Cary to 19 points. Against Sanderson, the Wildcats kept the Spartans from gaining any momentum on offense.
Millbrook rebounded well on both ends of the court, too. Center Briana Day and forward Ryan Flowers, both taller than 6-foot-3, kept the Spartans to one shot on most possessions. Sanderson had just one player, forward Bria Gibson, taller than 6 feet.
The Wildcats made it a priority to pass the ball inside to Day (eight points, 11 rebounds) and Flowers (19 points, seven rebounds).
The pair also was able to get Gibson, Sanderson’s best post player, in foul trouble. Once Gibson was forced to sit on the bench with three fouls, the Wildcats increased their lead to double digits before halftime.
“The main goal for Briana and I is to get our defender in foul trouble,” Flowers said. “We knew they didn’t have the height that we did.”
The Spartans, who had won seven of their past eight games entering Wednesday, knew the kind of intensity the Wildcats would show on defense.
The Wildcats pressured the Spartans plenty. Sanderson guard Dashawna Smith, a senior, was disappointed with the team’s 19 turnovers.
“We just didn’t play to our potential,” Smith said. “We weren’t getting back on defense and at times we couldn’t run plays.”
Derricka Lewis, a senior guard, also playing in her final high school game, led the Spartans with 19 points.
In the end, though, Sanderson (20-9) couldn’t find a second offensive weapon.
“We know Millbrook is a good team,” Sanderson coach Raymmond Hammond said. “I felt like we just missed shots.”