If any doubts remained that Milford Mill's Shari Burgess had fully recovered from the bruised vertebrae that sidelined her early in the season, the junior guard erased them last night.
Burgess scored 15 points, including three third-quarter three-pointers that helped spur the No. 8 Millers to a 59-42 victory over Westlake in a state Class 2A semifinal last night at UMBC.
The Millers (20-4) advance to the title game for the fourth straight year and will go after their first title at 8 p.m. tomorrow against Paint Branch, which beat Bladensburg, 43-42.
Burgess, who scored 20 in last year's semifinal victory, hit five of nine shots in the first half, including three of five from three-point range. Her 20-footer with three seconds left in the first half boosted the Millers' lead to 32-15.
"I knew we had to gain a big lead to kill them. I was open so I took them," said Burgess. "We couldn't let them back in it."
The return of Burgess' shooting stroke has made her the perfect complement to point guard Timmena Wilkins, who prefers to drive to the basket for her points. Last night, Wilkins finished with a game-high 22 points, 13 rebounds and six assists.
"A lot of teams are going to look at me," said Wilkins, "and when they do, I've got Shari right there. She's a zone buster. I'm a driver and she's a shooter. That's what makes us a good combination. If I get trapped, I can always kick it out, and 90 percent of the time, she's going to hit that open shot."
The duo combined to score 25 of Milford Mill's 32 first-half points, including every point in a 13-2 run that broke open the game midway through the first quarter.
There were two other keys to Milford's victory last night - rebounding and defense.
Tamika Rogers grabbed 16 rebounds as the Millers outrebounded the Wolverines, 52-47.
Defensively, the Millers' primary goal was to control 5-9 senior guard Meredith Bell, who averaged 20 points per game, with a box-and-one defense. Candyce Jeter and Qiana Cheatham rotated against Bell, who could penetrate or shoot from the outside, and held her to 13 points on 5-for-24 shooting.
"I think the atmosphere - most of them have been here before, but still this only happens once a year - made us do a lot of little bad things," said Milford Mill coach Pam Wright. "That's a good sign, I guess, because we could have done a lot better. But we have to save something for tomorrow."
The Millers want to win tomorrow night's game badly, especially after three straight title-game appearances and no title.
"We're hungry," said Wilkins. "Some of us have been here three times, some four. We've been underdogs all year. We've been doubted. Now we're back. It's time to dance."
MM-Wilkins 22, Burgess 15, Jeter 4, Cheatham 9, Rogers 5, Adeyemo 2, Cates 2. Totals: 24 8-16 59. W-M.Bell 13, Pegues 13, Gray 6, Huffman 5, Sturman 2, Washington 3. Totals: 15 9-19 42. Half: MM, 32-15.