Millbrook made it to the East regional final a season ago and fell short for the second straight year, falling to eventual state champion Garner.
If the Wildcats hope to duplicate or improve on their success from last season, they appear to be heading in the right direction. Millbrook opened the new season with a 72-67 win over Knightdale, in a game where they looked like they were in midseason form.
The Wildcats have to replace some key pieces from a year ago, but coach Scott McInnes is confident his current group can come together and leave a legacy of their own. That started with the win over a tough Knightdale team that battled from an early 16-point deficit to make it interesting in the second half.
“They are a really good team,” McInnes said. “It’s good that we held our composure because they made a run and we definitely could have folded. At that time it’s on the guys … we hung in there and kept battling and battling.”
The guys McInnes spoke of were players like senior Faison Brock, the most experienced player returning from last year’s Cap-8 champions. Brock started in 28 games a year ago, averaging 7.8 points.
He scored 14 versus Knightdale and “did everything” according to McInnes.
Knightdale coach Anthony Byrd said prior to the game he isn’t the biggest fan of such weighty games early in the season, but he knows their value regardless of the outcome.
“We’ve only played two games and we grew as a team,” Byrd said. “That type of game is going to help us in the long run – playing a team like Millbrook is tough, but that’s what we need is a tough schedule to make us conference ready.”
Dondre Griffin led the Knights with 22 points, followed by fellow senior Josh Schenck (20) and sophomore Drew Tuazama (11). Senior Jordan Shannon fouled out with 5 points.
“We are really heavily relying on (Shannon), and that hurt,” Byrd said. “But we had too many turnovers in that first quarter. It all came back to us not valuing the basketball. I didn’t think the pressure was a factor in that. We just needed to slow down the game some.”
Senior Trejon Jacob led the way for the Wildcats with 16, along with Word of God transfer Jordan Whitfield, who chipped in 16 of his own. The addition of Whitfield gives Millbrook a dynamic 1-2 punch in the backcourt paired with John Burwell.
If needed, McInnes can go to his bench. He played 10 players versus Knightdale in the first half, and seven different Wildcats scored.
“I’ll play 10 or 12 if it works out,” McInnes said. “I feel like we have good depth and I want to give those guys an early chance. We had a couple of those guys really step up big, which is fun.”
One of those guys was Patrick Dorsey, who played last season at Ravenscroft. Dorsey hit two huge 3s in the second half that turned out to be the difference in the game.
“Patrick stepped up huge down the stretch,” McInnes said.
McInnes wants to prepare his team to defend its Cap-8 title, and hopefully make another deep playoff run, by playing a tougher out of conference schedule. The Knights were the first real test, but more are coming. Next up is a game versus Apex – the team that beat the Wildcats in the 2014 East final before going on to win the 4A crown that year – on Monday. Millbrook also plays in the Shootout By The Sea tournament in North Myrtle Beach next month.
“I want to schedule as hard as possible,” McInnes said. “We want to play the best competition around. We want to do that and that’s going to make you better.”