By Brad Fauber - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Top-seeded Millbrook burst out of the gate in Saturday's Region II, Division 4 championship game against No. 3 Loudoun County while using a combination of stifling defense and hot shooting from senior Courtni Green to down the visiting Raiders, 68-41.
The win gives the Pioneers their third consecutive Region II title, and extends the Pioneers' winning streak to 77 straight games, tying Eagle Rock (now James River) for second all-time among VHSL girls basketball teams. Millbrook is one victory shy of tying the all-time record of 78 set by Haysi from 1947-51.
"That's the name of our game: come out and give all of the defensive intensity that we can and pressure people, and try to set the tone early," Pioneers coach Debby Sanders said of Millbrook's fast start on Saturday.
The contest began about as well as Millbrook could have asked for as the Pioneers opened the night on a 19-4 run through the first five minutes and 45 seconds of the game.
Green was responsible for much of the Pioneers' early success on offense, scoring 10 points during the run while knocking down a pair of 3-pointers in the process. Green kept the hot hand for most of the game, leading all scorers with 37 points and finishing with a 5-for-10 mark from beyond the 3-point arc.
"We knew that [Loudoun County was] a good team, so we just had to come out strong and hit our shots," Green said. "My teammates just gave me good passes, and they set good screens -- when I came [off the screens] I was open so I just shot it."
While Green's ability to score seemingly at will provided a boost for the Pioneers, it was Millbrook's defense that proved the bigger obstacle to the Raiders' attempts to keep within striking distance.
The Pioneers, intent on making a statement early in the contest, allowed just three shot attempts in the opening frame while forcing Loudoun County into eight turnovers.
"We always like to focus on defense, especially in the first [period] because that always dictates what we're going to be doing the rest of the game," said Pioneers senior Sara Mead. "We feel like it's really important to come out strong in the beginning, and defense is our specialty, I guess, so it's something that we're all really passionate about."
The Raiders (21-8) didn't fare much better over the final three quarters as they could never seem to get into a rhythm on the offensive end.
Though Loudoun County trailed by a manageable 40-25 margin at the end of the first half, little success was found in the Raiders' offensive sets, forcing them to rely heavily on their visits to the free-throw line.
Loudoun County hit 13 of 16 free throws in the first half, but Millbrook made second-half adjustments to cut down on its fouls, and the Raiders hit just 3 of 7 free throws in the final two periods. The Raiders scored just 16 points in the second half.
The Raiders, who typically try to limit their turnovers to less than 20 a game, were forced into 29 miscues on Saturday.
Seniors Katrina Kirby and Casey Cummings were the only Raiders to find success from the floor on Saturday, finishing with 13 and 12 points, respectively.
"Attribute that to Millbrook's defense -- we can do better [on offense], but a lot of that stuff was forced by what they were doing," Raiders coach Derek Fisher said. "You've got be able to play better offense to win a championship game. It wasn't really championship offense for us tonight."
Millbrook takes the next step toward a third consecutive Group AA title when it faces Region I runner-up Grafton on Friday night at James Madison University at 7 p.m. Even Sanders admits she is shocked by the level of focus and determination the Pioneers have displayed during their march towards history.
"It's unlike anything you've ever seen. There's times when us as a coaching staff, we'll look and we're just in awe of what these kids are able to do," Sanders said. "Some of the things they are able to pull off on the floor is just incredible."