By Tommy Keeler Jr.
STEPHENS CITY -- As the third quarter came to an end Sherando girls basketball coach Kevin Reed looked up to the home crowd and waved his arms for them to get up and make some noise. He knew his squad was on the verge of something special.
For the last four years Millbrook's girls basketball team, which has won three consecutive state titles, has used a stifling defense to blitz teams from the start as they racked up win after win. On Tuesday night, Sherando turned the tables on them. The Warriors used a strong start to knock off Millbrook 50-47 in Northwestern District action. The win snapped Millbrook's 49 game district winning streak.
"It's huge," Sherando sophomore Heidi Brown said. "It's really exciting to beat Millbrook. Everyone knows about their streak. For us to be able to kill their 49-game win streak in districts is good."
The Pioneers came out in a diamond-and-one on Sherando guard Lauren Reed, but Brown stepped up to help lead the fast start. The center scored six points in a 9-1 run to start the game, which caused the Pioneers to switch to a man-to-man defense.
It was Sherando's defense that was the big factor in the quick start. The Warriors forced Millbrook into six turnovers in the first quarter, and turned them into easy baskets as they took an 18-5 lead at the end of the first quarter.
"We felt good about the game plan coming in," Kevin Reed said. "We felt that we could come in, and get them on their heels. And we were confident in what we were going to do. They came out razor sharp and ready to play basketball.
"I have to emphasize we expected to do this. There were no jitters in the locker room or anything like that. They practiced so well, and they were so focused that they really expected to come out and put on a show in the first quarter and execute."
Kevin Reed said that the Warriors (5-8, 2-0 Northwestern) used six or seven defenses to keep the Pioneers off balance.
The teams were pretty much even in the second and third quarters as Sherando built the lead to 20 points with 2:31 left in the third quarter.
Millbrook showed the heart of a champion with a furious rally led by Brooke Borlie and Central transfer Brenna Cook.
Borlie scored 10 straight points to cut the lead to 43-32 with 7:20 left in the game. Cook hit two free throws to cut the lead to nine. After a free throw by Sherando's Dani Rizzari, Cook converted a steal into a layup to bring Millbrook to within 44-36 with 5:34 remaining.
Brown responded for the Warriors. She scored on back-to-back baskets to push the lead to 48-36 with 4:36 left.
"She was so active offensively, even on the offensive glass," Kevin Reed said of Brown's performance. "And a lot of credit to our guards for penetrating their defense and putting Heidi in position to finish shots."
The Pioneers (10-2, 1-1 Northwestern) would not go away quietly. Lauren Reed hit two free throws with 4:22 left in the game for a 50-36 lead, but it would be the Warriors last points of the game.
Sherando guards Jessica Hakel and Rizarri each fouled out in the fourth quarter, making things more difficult for the Warriors down the stretch. Cook scored six of the Pioneers final 11 points to almost bring them back.
Two free throws by Ackerman and a conventional three-point play by Borlie cut the lead to 50-43 with 2:02 remaining. Cook added a free throw and when her 3-pointer bounced up and through the rim with 59 seconds left, the Pioneers were within three.
The Pioneers had their chances in the final seconds but missed several shots, including three 3-point attempts.
"I can't be prouder of our kids," Millbrook coach Debby Sanders said. "You can't. What more can you ask in an environment like this, that thye're not used to? They fought. Any other team probably would have folded with that kind of lead and that kind of pressure. Where do you find fault? We made mistakes. They made mistakes. But to fight like that to the bitter end, I'm proud. I'm really proud."
Borlie had 18 points for the Pioneers, while Cook added 15. Millbrook lost most of its squad from last year, including four starters. Sanders said she knew the Warriors would come out fired up.
"When you've done what we've done in the past, you got a big target on your back," Sanders said. "That target hasn't gone anywhere. It's going to be around."
Brown had a career-high 23 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocks. Reed finished with 14 points, while Rizarri had three points and seven assists.
Sherando had lost six in a row, before winning two consecutive district games in the last week. Kevin Reed said the players didn't get down on themselves during the losing streak.
"Kids have the ability to bounce back," Kevin Reed said. "As a coach, if you'd have drove by my house, you would have seen a hole that I dug for somebody to throw the dirt in it. But you also have to realize that we teach them that you grow through adversity. You have to get better. It's a season, it's not a few games. Really all the credit goes to the girls, because they come to the gym every day willing to get better."
Contact assistant sports editor Tommy Keeler Jr. at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org