Survive and advance – that’s all that matters at this point in the season.
The Millbrook girls basketball team, reigning NCHSAA 4A champions, know that mantra better than most. The Wildcats didn’t play their best basketball for all 32 minutes Thursday night, but they came out with a 57-47 victory over Holly Springs and a spot in the third round of the playoffs.
“I think we fell back in some bad habits, made some poor decisions offensively and weren’t in the right spots defensively,” said Millbrook coach Chris East.
At first, all seemed right for the Wildcats.
Millbrook (26-3) jumped out to a commanding 20-8 lead after the first quarter. In the first 40 seconds of the game, Kai Crutchfield hit a 3, Zairya West had a steal and layup and the Wildcats defense created a second turnover.
Six players scored in the first period, and Holly Springs had no answer for the quick pace and pressure from Millbrook.
Leading the way for the Wildcats was Crutchfield, the N.C. State commit and star senior guard who scored the game-winner to win the championship last year. On offense, she led all scorers with 23 points and went 9-of-10 from the free throw line. On defense, Crutchfield made her presence known by jumping passing lanes and then barreling her way to the rim.
“Kai is just strong,” said Holly Springs coach Peace Easton. “She’s not built like the normal high school kid. Her body frame is like a college athlete compared to high school kids who aren’t in the weight room.”
Eventually the game settled down and by the second half, the Golden Hawks (20-8) had clawed their way back into the game and created a little momentum for themselves.
“We lost focus,” Crutchfield said. “In practices sometimes it happens, and they say you play like you practice.”
Jada Kearney led the way with 19 points for Holly Springs, and teammates Kiana Carter and Nya Jordan also hit some big shots in the comeback attempt.
“I was telling them they could really battle with Millbrook,” Easton said. “When you’re playing against Millbrook, some teams may have a type of fear. I didn’t want my girls to have any type of fear. I told them all we had to do was box out, get rebounds and be tough-minded and execute, and we could be in the game.”
At one point in the fourth quarter, Holly Springs had cut the deficit to six points, but the hole ended up being too deep. Though Millbrook scored just one field goal in the fourth quarter, it converted enough free throws to preserve the victory.
Going deeper into the tournament is nothing new for the Wildcats, and East said the key to continue surviving and advancing is for his players to listen to the coaches more.
“They need to buy in what we do offensively and defensively,” East said. “Sometimes we get in a hectic pace, go up and down the court and take quick shots, which are sometimes bad shots.”