Several threats stood before the Millbrook boys’ basketball team in the latter part of its conference season.
First it was Heritage.
Then Leesville Road.
Even Broughton, a regular league rival that had a sluggish start this year, looked to knock down the Wildcats.
But they didn’t falter. Millbrook came out on top of the Cap-8 Conference for the fifth consecutive time, 15th overall.
Millbrook entered the conference tournament, the first one since 2012, as the top seed with a chance at the title. Previous tournaments were canceled due to inclement weather.
Millbrook’s only loss on the year came against a fiery Heritage team on Jan. 8. The Huskies struck early and often to stun the Wildcats, 96-85, in Wake Forest. The second time around, Millbrook overcame a 17-point deficit in the second half to shake any lingering doubts about their position in the conference.
Millbrook swept the conference crown this year with the girls’ team, which went 14-0 in the Cap-8.
“The best part is we’ve got the best conference in the state,” Millbrook coach Scott McInnes said after a home win over Leesville Road. The victory determined first place, a hold the Wildcats never released.
“That’s what’s making us better,” McInnes said. “There’s Heritage, Broughton. We’ve got a lot of teams battling.”
Each journey to the Cap-8 regular-season championship has differed for the Wildcats (23-1), who were Eastern Regional runner-ups last year behind two of the program’s all-time leading scorers in Rob Brown and Chris Clemons.
Millbrook still has a plethora of shooters on its roster but has featured a markedly improved defense since the lone loss at Heritage.
The Wildcats are allowing a conference-low 55.5 points a game, while forcing 78.3 to also lead the league. Four players are averaging double figures.
Senior forward Faison Brock leads the defense with 70 of the team’s 330 steals (league-best 2.9 a contest). He also has 200 rebounds on the year, 133 off the defensive glass.
“Defense wins games,” said senior John Whitfield, the team’s assist leader (5.5 a game). “(To get through the Cap-8 this year, we’re) staying focused and listening to the game plan that the coaches give us. That’s what got us all these wins.”
The N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs start Tuesday, and brackets will be released Sunday.
Millbrook was the No. 2 seed last year behind Garner, the team it fell to by three points in the regional round. Garner went on to win the 4A title.
A week before this year’s postseason, Millbrook is No. 2 on The News & Observer prep basketball rankings behind an undefeated Cary. On Maxpreps, the Cats are No. 4 behind top-ranked High Point Christian Academy (22-5), Charlotte Providence Day and Greensboro Day. Cary is No. 5.
“We’ve had a bunch of teams battling (in the Cap-8), which makes you better in the long run,” McInnes said. “It’s tough because that means you have to bring it every night, which is great. I’m glad it’s the best conference in the state.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan
Millbrook boys’ regular-season conference run
Jan. 5 Wakefield W 82-37
Jan. 8 at Heritage L 96-85
Jan. 15 at Sanderson W 90-67
Jan. 21 Leesville Road W 78-52
Jan. 27 Wake Forest W 74-34
Jan. 29 at Broughton W 78-57
Feb. 2 at Wakefield W 86-31
Feb. 3 at Enloe W 104-68
Feb. 5 Millbrook W 65-58
Feb. 9 at Leesville Road W 65-62
Feb. 12 Sanderson W 97-62