A recurring theme for Millbrook girls’ basketball this season has been trust.
Trust the game plan.
Trust your teammates.
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Kai Crutchfield proved all three in the Wildcats’ last-second 46-45 victory over Northwest Guilford in Saturday’s N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A championship at the Dean E. Smith Center.
With Millbrook junior Andreal Bass lined up for her second free throw and a chance to tie the game with 3.5 seconds left in regulation, Crutchfield tracked the ball. When it bounced off the rim, Crutchfield extended her entire body to grab the rebound and banked in the game-winning shot as time expired.
A dogpile burying the Millbrook junior guard followed as the Wildcats claimed their third title since back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013.
“I let the game come to me, I didn’t worry about it,” said Krutchfield, who led the game with 17 points and won Most Valuable Player honors. She played a game-high 32 minutes.
“I honestly wasn’t thinking about it. I just went ahead and shot it,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to do it without my teammates, just pushing me on and off the court. I couldn’t be here without them.”
No. 2 Millbrook, who handed Northwest (30-1) its first loss of the season in the Vikings inaugural championship appearance, had to overcome a first-half deficit to get by the previously undefeated squad from Greensboro. Northwest was the West’s top seed.
The Wildcats (30-2) shot 22 percent in the opening quarter and trailed 24-18 at halftime.
But, behind believing in each other, they responded.
Millbrook opened the third quarter on a 10-0 run fueled by junior Dazia Powell, the East’s Most Outstanding Player. She drained a 3-pointer at 5:21 to give Millbrook a 26-24 lead, an edge it would maintain until the closing minutes of the fourth.
Northwest senior Morgan Pointer, the West’s MOP, hit a shot with 3:32 showing in the game to reclaim a Vikings lead. Vikings senior Toni Tucker sank a triple with about a minute remaining for a 44-41 lead.
Millbrook trailed 45-44 when Bass, the game’s top rebounder with 14, lined up for two. She pulled down an offensive rebound in the waning seconds and drew contact.
“Without her first free throw, we wouldn’t be sitting her right now,” Millbrook senior Jaleesa Dillard said of Bass. “I could see in her eyes she was shocked. ... I told her we would be there for her no matter what.”
Powell was the second Millbrook player to finish in double figures with 12 points. She had two assists, including a Dillard find to close out the third-quarter surge.
“We didn’t play very well in the first half, hence a couple of adjustments in the second half,” Millbrook coach Chris East said. “We came back. We stayed with it. I couldn’t be more proud of these girls right now if I tried.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan