Millbrook senior guard Kai Crutchfield admits this year’s trek through the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A girls basketball playoffs represents a different challenge than a year ago, when the Wildcats were merely the hunter on their way to capturing their first state title since 2013.
“It’s a different feel this time, because we have the target on our back since we already have a state title,” said the N.C. State-bound senior Crutchfield. “Coaches have stressed not to be satisfied with one ring, we have to keep striving and do everything as a team.”
Millbrook did more than enough as a team Saturday, withstanding a game effort from visiting Green Hope in a 55-41 victory to advance to the fourth round.
The third-seeded Wildcats (27-3) leaned offensively on the shoulders of senior Andreal Bass, who scored a game-high 20 points, and a defense that limited sixth-seeded Green Hope (26-4) to 29 percent shooting from the field.
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Millbrook led for nearly the entirety of the contest but couldn’t quite shake the Falcons until midway through the third quarter.
After trailing by as many as 12 in the first half, Green Hope drew within 30-26 on a pair of free throws by Kelly Fitzgerald with 5 minutes, 18 seconds remaining in the third quarter. However, Millbrook answered with seven straight points, the last pair coming on a spin move in the paint by Sis Norman, to take a 37-26 lead with 2:03 left in the frame.
Green Hope did draw within 41-35 on a three-pointer by Rachel Argabright with 7:03 left in the fourth quarter, but Millbrook’s Dazia Powell scored in transition off a turnover and teammate Zairya West followed two minutes later with a three-pointer from the left wing to put the Wildcats up 46-35 with 4:20 to go and the Falcons would get no closer than eight points the rest of the way.
“They hurt us inside, they got some rebounds and made some layups,” Green Hope coach Mike Robinson said. “I thought we played well, we played hard, and stayed in the game. I’m proud of our girls, Millbrook is a very good team.”
West added 11 points and Norman nine for Millbrook.
Nia Washington had 13 points to lead Green Hope.
Millbrook started fast, going on an 8-0 run in the opening four minutes to take a 10-2 lead, as it made a concerted effort to get Bass the ball inside. She scored nine points in the opening frame, eight of those on baskets in the post, in helping stake Millbrook to a 15-8 lead.
That lead grew to 24-12 on a bank shot by Norman with 4:15 left in the second quarter, but Green Hope started to capitalize on some sloppy passing by Millbrook, whittling the deficit to 28-22 at halftime. The Falcons just couldn’t get over the hump in the second half, their season ending in the third round for the second straight year.
“We started off pretty good and I liked the intensity, that’s the best I’ve seen coming out,” Millbrook coach Chris East said. “We get a little bit of a lead and then make some poor decisions and let them back in. But I’m proud of these girls, they responded when they had to. We just have to clean a few things up.”