With just four losses on the year, Miller had to be excited to see the team that last beat them, Hargrave, got bounced in the VISAA Division 2 quarterfinals. Of course the flip side to that coin was that in Walsingham, the Mavericks were facing an unknown.
“I’ve been nervous the whole week because they’ve been known to hold the ball, run the flex, play 2-3 zone, pack it in,” said Miller coach Danny Manuel. “I’ve been fretting it out the last couple of days, telling the guys only to take great shots and doing our thing on defense.”
The Trojans were able to put a good fight in the first quarter, but when the Mavericks’ Jaylin Reed started knocking down 3-pointers, the writing was soon on the wall. With a strong second quarter paired with another strong frame in the third, Miller took down Walsingham 65-50 to reach the VISAA Division 2 championship game for a second straight season.
“You see a 2-3 zone and a lot of guys see a wide open jump shot but that’s not what we want to do,” Manuel said. “I’m proud of the guys for being aggressive and attacking the basket, sharing the ball and playing for eachother.”
Miller took a 1-point lead going into the first quarter as it tried to poke and prod Walsingham’s zone. In the second through, the Mavericks created some separation with Aundre Hyatt’s work in the paint and then a pair of 3-pointers from Reed pushed the top seed to an 18-8 advantage in the second and make it a 27-16 game at the break.
“All we were doing was passing the ball around, sharing the ball,” Reed said. “That’s what we do as a team. It was just get it to the open man and hopefully he can knock down the shot.”
The first portion of the third belonged to Hyatt and Dae Dae Heard as they propelled the Mavericks to a 11-4 run midway through the quarter. Heard picked up five points in the third, all of them in the paint, while Hyatt hit a pair of three’s and threw down a dunk to highlight his 12 points in the frame.
“In the last game we played I was a little lethargic and so I had to bring the energy to the game today,” Hyatt said. “This was a great game to get all the kinks out. We played slow in the first half. In the second we played harder. If we do what we did in the second half the whole game tomorrow it’ll be a good game.”
Up 47-29 in the fourth, Miller got more shooting from beyond the arc from Reed and Heard and plenty of action at the free throw line. The Mavericks went 8-for-11 at the foul line and while Walsingham was able to get as close as 13 points of the lead with just over two minutes to play, the game was never in question down the stretch.
“Since the beginning of the year we’ve been waiting for this moment,” Reed said. “Now we’re here.”
On the night, Hyatt led the way with his 23 points. Reed was not far behind with 21 points fueled by a quartet of three’s. Heard finished with 12 points to give the Mavericks three in double figures.
Miller now advances to face Blue Ridge in the state championship game for the second year in a row. The last time the Mavericks lost was to the Barons in that game, 73-36. Of course since then, Miller has taken the last three contests with their fellow VIC colleagues in wins by 2, 9 and 9 points respectively.
“Last year I think the stage was a little too bright for the (younger players),” Manuel said. “We came in last year a little wet behind the years. Now we’re the big dogs. So we’ve got to go and handle business one time. You can be the big dog all year and lose tomorrow and (those three wins) don’t mean anything.”
Tipoff for the championship game is slated for 2 p.m. at Virginia State University. A win would be the first state title for the Mavericks since the 2008-2009 campaign.
“It’s going to be two heavyweights,” Manuel said. “Can you execute? Can you guard? Can you rebound? Are you going to make your free throws? Are you not going to get flustered when the other team starts going crazy? So yea, I’m already flustered about it.”