Sherando girls race out to early lead, but Millbrook grinds out 65-61 win
STEPHENS CITY — Millbrook girls’ basketball coach Kevin Barr knew when his team beat Sherando by 38 points on Jan. 10 that it didn’t see a true reflection of the Warriors’ talents.
In Friday night’s Northwestern District rematch, the Warriors and Pioneers treated fans to the type of tightly-contested game that some thought would happen in the first meeting three weeks ago.
Both teams overcame big deficits and then went back-and-forth in a fourth period that was a one-possession game in the closing minutes until Millbrook senior Brenna Cook scored her team’s final five points to help the Pioneers hold off Sherando 65-61.
“It was a tough grind coming back, but they held their composure and fought back and stayed in it,” Barr said. “In the second half I was hoping that we could hold the lead a little bit better than we did, but we made some mental mistakes and [Sherando’s] press was really good. We’ve got to work on that a little bit better.
“The game at our place that wasn’t the same Sherando team. I knew coming into [tonight] that it was going to be a close game — I had no doubts. It’s hard sometimes to get the girls to believe that — but I’ve seen [Sherando] play many times this year — and I knew the game they played at our place wasn’t close to the same team they’re capable of being.”
Cook scored 13 of her 15 points in second half, and she took control in the final minute to help the Pioneers take the lead for good.
Her driving layup around Sherando’s Davina Lane put Millbrook on top 62-60 with 45 seconds left, and then Cook hit the first of two free throws to give the Pioneers a three-point lead with 27.5 seconds to go.
Sherando’s Jessica Hakel, who scored a game-high 16 points, hit the second of two free throws to cut the lead to 63-61 with 22 seconds remaining.
After Millbrook’s Casey Ackerman missed a layup on the ensuing possession, Sherando junior Heidi Brown also missed a layup, and Cook grabbed the defensive rebound and was fouled.
Cook sank both free throws with 10.3 seconds on the clock to push the Pioneers’ lead to 65-61.
Sherando’s Davina Lane and Audra Sites (11 points) both missed shots in the closing seconds, and Ackerman (11 points, seven rebounds and two steals) grabbed the rebound as time expired.
Cook, who went 5 of 6 from the free-throw line in the contest and scored seven points in the fourth quarter, said she didn’t feel any extra pressure at the line in the final minute.
“You’ve just got to knock them down when it counts,” said Cook, who also had 14 rebounds and two steals. “We were really just trying to keep our composure. I thought as a team we did a great job of keeping our composure throughout. That’s just what I thought about on the foul line, keeping cool and staying calm.”
The Pioneers (14-3, 4-0 Northwestern) needed to keep their composure after Sherando (10-6, 3-3) opened the fourth quarter in a full-court press that sparked an 8-0 Warrior run.
Hakel started the run with a 3-pointer, and Brown capped the run with another from deep to give Sherando a 44-43 advantage with 7:15 left.
Cook put Millbrook back on top with a layup, sophomore Lauren Reed knocked down a pair of 3-pointers and sophomore forward Joneisha Cain (14 points, including three 3-pointers) added another 3-pointer to push the Pioneers’ lead to 60-54.
Sherando answered with another run, getting a 3-pointer from Audra Sites and then capitalizing on an intentional foul called on Millbrook’s Liz McDonald going after a loose ball with Hakel.
Hakel went 1 for 2 on the ensuing free throws, and then knocked down a pair of free throws on the ensuing possession to tie it at 60-60 with 1:08 left.
From there, Cook scored Millbrook’s next five points to seal it.
“We knew from the start it would be a closer game because [Sherando’s] a good team,” Cook said. “We knew we were going to have to come out and play hard. They definitely came out with more intensity [than we did at the start] and we had to match it.”
Sherando jumped out to an early 12-0 lead and held a 16-4 advantage at the end of the first quarter.
The Warriors were playing a triangle-and-two defense, doubling Reed and Cook whenever they had the ball in the early going.
Millbrook responded with a run in the second quarter, outscoring Sherando 23-6 in the period. Sherando struggled shooting in the second quarter, going just 2 for 13 from the field as the Pioneers rallied to take a 27-22 advantage at the half.
“They came out and got us playing on our heels and just kept bringing the pressure, but we didn’t let it get to our heads,” said Reed, who tied Cook with a team-high 15 points, including two 3-pointers, and had three assists in her first game on her former home court after transferring to Millbrook over the summer. “The fourth quarter was a battle and that was just about heart when you get to that point. We definitely expected it to be a tougher game, and we did not expect them to just roll over.”
Millbrook led by as many as 15 after Casey Ackerman’s 3-pointer made it 37-22 with 5:25 to go in the third, but Sherando trimmed the deficit down to seven after Hakel’s layup cut the Pioneers’ lead to 43-36 at the end of the third. From there, the two district rivals battled throughout the final eight minutes.
Sherando coach Mike Marsh credited his team for fighting for four quarters.
“For me the greatest thing is we rolled right back and we actually got the lead again [in the fourth quarter],” Marsh said. “I can’t be more proud of how we responded. The last time we played them and got in that situation we fell off. [Friday] we found our heart, and I’m very proud of how we fought through it.
“We had a couple chances to get a lead late or tie it late, and that’s just something that we have to get better at — taking nothing away from Millbrook because they played a very good game. We had two great sections of the game, and we played great too. It definitely wasn’t 65-27 or whatever the first game was. That was a nightmare I want to forget, so obviously I can forget it now.”
The Warriors missed three shots under the basket that could have tied the game in the final 45 seconds, and that’s what made Friday night’s loss so tough but also one that gives them added confidence going forward.
“We stuck in their together as a team and we competed really hard and just laid our hearts out there on the floor,” Hakel said. “I couldn’t have been more proud of my team.”
Millbrook only had five players factor in the scoring — but all five scored in double figures. McDonald finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds and seven steals to join Cook, Reed, Ackerman and Cain in double digits.
— Contact Robert Stocks at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @WinStarSports1