COLLEGE PARK — Milford Mill coach Mike Silverman said earlier this week that his team was going to play with a "calm urgency" heading into the Class 3A semifinal Thursday at the University of Maryland's Comcast Center.
The No. 4 Millers, however, ran into a Westlake team that was primed to play with a reckless abandon.
Appearing in just its second state tournament, Westlake, of Waldorf, swarmed to the ball and made enough key baskets down the stretch to pull out a 71-68 victory and knock off the defending champions.
The loss removed the chance of a highly-anticipated postseason rematch between Milford Mill and top-ranked City in the final. Milford Mill knocked off City in last season's Class 3A North final en route to the state championship. Instead, the Knights will take on Westlake on Saturday at 3 p.m.
Millers guard Justin Jenifer, who averaged 17.3 points and 12 assists per game this season, had a defender directly in front of him for most of the game but still finished with 23 points.
"This isn't the first time I've been in this situation," Jenifer said. "Everybody on my team kept telling me to keep my head and to not worry about. Just keep playing. It was making me a little tired, but I knew I had to push through."
The Wolverines were effective in slowing Milford Mill's offense by playing a box-and-one. Reggie White did manage 10 points for the Millers (18-6), who forced 22 turnovers in the game.
Westlake guard Dominic Espeleta torched Milford Mill for 27 points, including going 8-for-10 from the free throw line. Chris Craft had eight points and 11 rebounds for Westlake (22-4).
Silverman said play from the Wolverines' quick guards was a huge difference in the game.
"I thought we could have done a little better job stopping the penetration by their guards," Silverman said. "We got into foul trouble early and we had to make some adjustments with that. Today, we came up short."
Westlake took its first lead of the game, 33-31, with 5:31 left in the third quarter. The Wolverines then carried the momentum for most of the way.
A short jumper by Chad Stanford increased the lead to 10 late in the third quarter. The Millers did manage a late run, as Jenifer converted a free throw to give the them a one-point lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Westlake, however, answered with a 3-pointer by Gabriel Jarvis. Milford Mill would never regain the lead and another open layup by Jarvis gave the Wolverines a 70-66 lead. After Desi Wiseman made a free throw to give Westlake a 71-68 cushion in the closing seconds, a desperate heave at the buzzer by Milford Mill's Anthony Brown fell short to end the game.
The Millers were shorthanded when one their best defenders Allen Costley fouled out in the final two minutes. Costley finished with nine points, two blocks and two steals.
"It was hard because I wanted to be out there with my team so bad," Costley said. "But I had to keep the intensity up and keep on pushing. It was tough."
After Westlake trailed by as many as eight in the early part of the game, the Wolverines dominated most of the second quarter, and a layup by Trevor English pulled them to within a point with four minutes remaining. Westlake continued to keep pace with Milford Mill, and a short jumper by Craft with 1:41 remaining tied the game at 29 heading into the break and gave the Wolverines confidence.
"It was a big win just because Milford Mill is always a good team," Westlake coach Ed Mouton said. "They were the defending champions. So, if we wanted to win states, which was our goal all year, we had to beat the champions."
Class 3A semifinal
Westlake 71, No. 4 Milford Mill 68
Milford Mill -- Jenifer 23, White 10, Costley 9, Brown 9, Moore 7, Cooper 4, Alston 4, Lolami 2. Totals: 24 17-27 68
Westlake -- Espeleta 27, Craft 8, Wiseman 8, Alston 8, Jarvis 8, Perry 6, Johnson 2, English 2, Stanford 2. Totals: 23 19-29 71
Half: 29-29Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun