By Tommy Keeler Jr.
WINCHESTER -- Millbrook's game plan to shut down Sherando leading scorer Lauren Reed worked to perfection on Thursday night. The freshman guard was held without a field goal, but luckily for the Warriors they have other weapons on offense.
Sherando sophomore guards Jessica Hakel and Dani Rizzari helped lead the way as the Warriors beat the Pioneers, 41-35, in the Northwestern District girls basketball tournament final at Handley. Both teams will play in next week's Region II, Division 4 tournament.
"Everybody thinks that this team was built on Lauren [Reed]," Sherando coach Kevin Reed said. "And early on we struggled to find other kids to step up and have confidence. But as the season progressed you could see the other kids start to grow and materialize."
Millbrook played a box-and-one on Lauren Reed, so Kevin Reed came up with a plan to counteract it.
"We overloaded one side with the box-and-one," Kevin Reed said. "They wanted to play 4-on-4, guess what, we played 2-on-2 on the backside and our two [Hakel and Rizzari] did a number on them.
"We talked at halftime with [Lauren Reed] and said, 'Just keep doing what you're doing.' Because when she went one way, not only did they have a box-and-one on her, they shaded somebody else to her and it opened up all these seams."
Rizzari and Hakel were able to find the seams and knocked down some key shots.
It was the fourth meeting between the two schools this season, and it was the first time the game stayed close throughout the first half.
Hakel hit a 3-pointer early in the second quarter, and two driving layups by Rizzari helped give Sherando a 19-14 lead at the half.
Millbrook's Brooke Borlie scored inside the paint to start the second half and cut the lead to three, but Hakel and Rizzari hit back-to-back 3-pointers to take a 25-16 lead with 5:22 left in the third quarter.
Two free throws by Hakel and a basket by Rizzari helped give the Warriors an 11-point cushion heading into the final quarter.
Sherando (14-10) extended the lead to as many as 13 in the fourth, before Millbrook made one last run. A 3-pointer and two free throws by Casey Ackerman and a basket by Borlie cut the lead to 36-30 with 3:31 left.
Two free throws by Erin Magalis and one by Hakel helped seal the victory down the stretch.
Kevin Reed said he was very proud of the team, especially Hakel and Rizzari.
"Dani Rizzari's growth and development, and her mental edge just shined through tonight," he said. "Offensively, Jess Hakel has not had the year I know she would like to have had, as in comparison to last year, but we talked again at practice yesterday about her shooting form, and tonight she just came out and shot lights out."
Sherando's defense also came up big, as the Warriors held the Pioneers to only six field goals through the first three quarters. Kevin Reed said they used a little man-to-man, some zone and a box-and-one at times to keep the Pioneers off balance.
"We didn't execute on the offensive end like we needed to execute and that's disappointing," Millbrook coach Debby Sanders said. "Still, I'm proud of this group. We're 19-4 and there is no shame in that. And I think that's to be commended."
Borlie led the Pioneers (19-4) with 12 points.
Rizzari had a game-high 15 points, while Hakel had 14 for the Warriors. Sherando won a one-game playoff on Monday over Millbrook for the regular-season title, and three days later added a tournament trophy.
"It's amazing," Rizzari said. "I wouldn't want to be with any other team. I love this team."
"It feels amazing," Hakel said. "We've worked so hard in the regular season. We've played some really tough teams and that's helped a lot, helped build us up to this point. We've worked hard and we've never given up."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or email@example.com