Millbrook’s culmination of unselfish basketball benefited in its N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A East girls’ regional final win over Hillside Saturday.
The Wildcats defeated the Hornets 58-51 and relied on its bench after two starters faced early foul trouble and evenutally fouled out.
“We were a little rugged down there at the end, and we have to do a better job of closing out games,” Millbrook coach Chris East said. “I’m happy we won, very happy we won. ... Bottom line is to win and advance.”
Millbrook (29-2) moved on to the state championship and will play Northwest Guildford next Saturday in the final.
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A second-round exit from last year’s playoff fueled the Wildcats this season.
“For me, it’s everything,” Millbrook senior Jaleesa Dillard said. “My senior year, I want to go out with a state championship. In our very first game of the season, I told (the team), ‘We’re going to a state championship, nothing’s getting in our way.’ ”
To get by the Hornets (28-3), and maintain a season-long winning streak against North Carolina teams, the Wildcats used its diverse scoring attack and compensated for the late loss of Dazia Powell.
She was limited in the first half after picking up three fouls, and the junior guard fouled out with fewer than five minutes left in a game where Millbrook never trailed.
Zairya West, playing with four fouls, drove for her first make of the night at the 3:22 mark of the fourth quarter. It was a part of a closing rally to respond to a Jakelbi Lewis 3-pointer that put the Hornets down 45-38 with about 6 minutes showing.
Millbrook got 34 points in the paint and 17 from the bench.
Dillard and Powell each scored a team-leading 10 for Millbrook. Lewis led the game with 16, followed by Hornets junior star Elisia Grissett, who fouled out in the fourth quarter.
Four players, two from each squad, fouled out, but Millbrook had options.
“You’ve seen it all year long: we’re our best when we’re balanced, when three or four or five kids score eight, nine, 10 or 12 points,” East said. “I think we had a little bit of that tonight, too.”
Hillside coach Ovester Grays predicted earlier this year one of three teams would make it to the state championship: his Hornets, Millbrook or Southeast Raleigh, the team Millbrook eliminated in the fourth round.
“They played better today than we did,” Grays said. “I’m proud of my team, though. They’ve grown a lot.”
Millbrook outrebounded Hillside 34-15, as junior Kai Crutchfield pulled down a team-high six for the Wildcats. Grissett had six for the Hornets.
The Wildcats scored 17 points off turnovers but only had two steals in the game.
“If you believe in your teammates and trust they’re going to be where they’re supposed to be, it could be a little easier for you,” East said. “I think these kids deserve it. They bust their tails.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan