Last Second Basket Crowns Millbrook Women’s 4A State Champions – Wyatt Smith Reporting

Last Second Basket Crowns Millbrook Women’s 4A State Champions

For the first time in school history, the Northwest Guilford Lady Vikings advanced to the state championship game played in the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill on Saturday night. The Vikings faced a Raleigh Millbrook team who was (29-2) on the season, compared to the undefeated record of Northwest (30-0). The Vikings would need to continue to play their strong defense and even scoring if they were to win the final game of the historic season.

The defense was definitely there in a game that was more than likely the most physical that the Vikings had played all year. Scoring, however, was a different story. The Vikings managed to rack up only 45 points and had only one player in double figures.

When the tipoff was delayed for over a minute due to the television crew’s commercial break, it was apparent that this wasn’t like any other high school game. And the first few minutes showed that the big stage had an effect on both teams. The Vikings turned over the ball on their first two possessions and Millbrook missed a layup in the opening minutes. Millbrook was first on the scoreboard with a free throw a minute into the game, but the first field goal didn’t come until two minutes had passed. Once the scoring started, the butterflies of playing in the Dean Dome seemed to fade, and players got down to business.

The first quarter set the pace for the game and was very physical, but it would become more so. The Vikings took the lead early on two Bria Gibbs free throws, but were quickly answered by a field goal and two free throws from Millbrook’s Kai Crutchfield. Hayley Barber scored four points for the Vikings in the opening quarter, and, with 45 seconds left, Cayla King nailed a three-pointer that put Northwest up by four, 11-7, which was the score when the buzzer sounded at the end of the first eight minutes of play.

Millbrook made a statement to start the second quarter when Zairya West drilled a three pointer just 13 seconds in. That statement was answered by two more free throws from Gibbs and a Toni Tucker three. Tucker added four more points, and although Millbrook had pulled within one point to open the quarter, Northwest retained the lead for the duration of the first half. The score at halftime was 24-18.

The third quarter, however, showed that the Vikings were capable of being vulnerable.

Millbrook came out of the locker room at halftime and went on a tear, scoring 10 unanswered points in three -and-a-half minutes, giving them the lead. The Vikings finally made a basket, a three-pointer from the far corner, swished by Savannah Neas. Northwest would score only three more points in the third quarter. The three by Neas brought the Vikings back within two, and even though they trailed by only 5 going into the fourth, it was apparent that the tide had turned.

Morgan Pointer and Toni Tucker buoyed the Vikings the entire game, especially in the final eight frenetic minutes. Pointer had eight points in the fourth quarter that allowed the game to remain close. Pointer made a reverse lay-up that made the score 40-39 Vikings, giving them the lead for the first time since the third quarter. Tucker added a free throw and increased the lead to two. The Wildcats then tied the game at 41, and then Tucker hit a big three pointer that put the Vikings back in front with 1:12 to play. Vikings fans again became hopeful.

Millbrook’s Crutchfield was fouled and made both of her free throws six seconds later, making the score 44-43. The Vikings’ final point came when they were attempting to run the clock down, seemingly successfully. Morgan Pointer was fouled on the far sideline and went to the line to shoot two free throws. The Vikings were leading by one, and Pointer connected on one of two, to increase her team’s lead to 45-43.

The final 23 seconds were gut-wrenching for everyone in the arena. The Wildcats had possession, drove down the court, and got the ball inside to Andreal Bass who attempted a shot, and a questionable foul was called on Northwest’s Gibbs. The Wildcats’ Bass went to the line with 3.5 seconds left, and the chance to tie the game. Bass made the first free throw and missed the second. The rebound fell into the hands of Millbrook’s Crutchfield who threw the ball up in a desperation shot. It fell into the basket, and Millbrook took the lead as three seconds ticked off the clock.

Crutchfield was dog-piled where she took the shot by her teammates, who were celebrating the school’s third State Title in five years.

The Wildcats had won the game and left the stunned Vikings empty-handed. The final score was 46-45.

The Most Outstanding Players were Morgan Pointer from Northwest Guilford and Millbrook’s Dazia Powell. There was no doubt that Crutchfield was named the Championship’s MVP.

“Wow. I’m happy,” Millbrook head coach Chris East said in the postgame press conference. “We didn’t play very well in the first half and made a couple of adjustments at halftime due to a good call by the assistant coaches. We got lucky and knocked them in there. I couldn’t be more proud of these girls right now if I tried.”

“I really let the game come to me,” Crutchfield said of the game-winning shot. “I didn’t really think about it. I just went ahead and shot it knowing that there was only a couple of seconds left on the clock.”

An emotional head coach Darlene Joyner, surrounded by her six seniors, praised her team’s effort.

“First of all, I couldn’t be more proud of these girls than I am now,” she said. “They’ve done something that no team in the history of the school has done, two years in a row, and I’m just super proud of them.

“We worked very hard and had a great game plan,” she continued. “I thought the kids executed on both ends. It was just a bouncing ball at the end of the game. It was a heartbreaker, and we just asked the girls to hold their heads up high.”

When Toni Tucker was asked about the big three pointer she made late in the game to give the Vikings that boost, a somber Hayley Barber piped up, “We knew she would knock it down. That’s why we passed her the ball.”

“We’re not a basketball team, we’re a family,” Morgan Pointer added to end the conference.

The six seniors that accompanied Joyner to the press conference Saturday night made school history the past two years, making it to the West Finals last season for the first time in Northwest history, and this season winning the West, and making the trip all the way to the Dean Dome. Unfortunately, they came up one point short.


Millbrook Stats

Kai Crutchfield: 17pts, 6reb

Dazia Powell: 12pts, 4reb, 2ast, 1stl

Jaleesa Dillard: 7pts, 2reb, 1ast, 1blk

Andreal Bass: 5pts, 14reb, 1ast, 1lk, 1stl

Zairya West: 5pts, 1reb, 1ast


Northwest Stats

Toni Tucker: 11pts, 1stl

Morgan Pointer: 9pts, 9reb, 1ast, 3stl

Cayla King: 9pts, 5reb, 4ast, 1blk

Hayley Barber: 6pts, 3reb, 3ast, 1stl

Bria Gibbs: 5pts, 4reb

Savannah Neas: 5pts