Milford Mill’s girls basketball team has been waiting two years to savor this victory.
After falling to two-time defending state champion Aberdeen twice in the last two years, including the 2012 regional championship, the No. 4 Millers got their revenge with an 80-62 victory in Saturday night’s Class 3A North regional championship.
The Millers dethroned the Eagles with swarming defense, transition offense and aggressive rebounding that broke the game open late in the first half. When Dionna White finished off a 22-5 run with a layup to open the third quarter, the Millers led 40-25.
The Eagles, who had been to three straight state finals, would get no closer than nine points.
“It was basically defense and staying aggressive,” Millers senior Qierra Murray said. “We know they’re long and big and physical, so just like with Catonsville [in winning the Baltimore County championship] we had to rebound, rebound, rebound because we’re small and we had to push, run, run, run to get them tired.”
The Millers (24-1) relied on their deeper bench and also got 15 points from forward-guard Akiri Lewis. They will advance to the state semifinals for the 10th time and seek a second state title to go with their 2005 trophy. They will meet Westlake on Thursday at 9 p.m. at Towson University’s SECU Arena.
White, a junior and an All-Metro guard since her freshman year, provided much of the spark, finishing with 32 points, eight rebounds, six assists and five steals. She kept the Millers’ up-tempo game rolling, leading a defense that powered their offense.
“She’s a very dynamic player,” Aberdeen coach Amber Milnes said. “She’s very good at jumping the passing lanes, and we just got caught sleeping on her … We lost her, and then when she drove down the paint, our bigs weren’t ready to step in and do the help, so we kind of just let her do what she does and she does it so well, which is why they’re going on to states.”
Aberdeen (16-8) erased Milford’s early advantage and took a 16-14 lead on Stephanie Jones’ 3-pointer late in the first quarter. The Eagles took an 18-17 lead into the second quarter, but White opened the quarter by feeding Kelli Smoot for a 3-pointer and the Eagles never again led.
Jones, an All-Metro forward-guard, added two free throws to tie at 20 before the Millers took off on their 22-5 run. Despite 34 points from Jones, the Eagles couldn’t contend with the Millers’ speed and quickness.
“The just beat us down the floor,” Milnes said. “They caught us off guard. We couldn’t get our defenses set up. They run a lot of cut plays through the middle. We weren’t keeping track of people in our area and we just easily got caught in bad transitions on defense and they took advantage of it.”
Aberdeen had nine turnovers in the Millers’ decisive run, including two late in the second quarter on steals by White in the open court. The Eagles also went without a field goal from the time Jones hit a long jump shot with 52 seconds left in the first quarter until her next basket with 2:36 left before halftime.
Jones, who scored 46 points in the sectional semifinal, also had 14 rebounds, but the Millers won a lot of key boards even though they only outrebounded the Eagles 48-40.
For the Millers, this has been just part of the goal since day one.
“Even in tryouts, we were saying we wanted to get there — now it’s Towson,” Murray said. “We want to hold up that state championship banner and bring it back home. But we’re still viewed as the underdogs, coming here to Aberdeen with them being the defending two-time champions and then winning by 18, it’s a good confidence builder, but we’ve got to stay humble and hungry.”
No. 4 Milford Mill 80, Aberdeen 62
MM—Murray 6, Smoot 5, White 32, Thompson 8, Lewis 15, McKenzie 8, Calvert 6. Totals 33 9-16 80,
A—Norton 8, Jones 34, Palmer 13, Cole 4, Sanderson 3. Totals 20 21-26 62. Half: M, 38-25Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun