After making it through the rigors of a two-win regular season, Millington (3-17) is seeing ever-increasing signs of the team it hopes to become down the road.
Following Monday’s 40-28 Division 3 girls’ basketball district-opening win over Vassar at Millington High School, the Cardinals are showing an up-tick in confidence heading into what could be another winnable game in today’s 7:30 p.m. semifinal with Montrose (4-15).
With just two seniors on its roster, Millington coach Christian Selich is growing increasingly optimistic about the Cardinals’ potential for the future. One such player, sophomore Anika Sykes, did nothing to diminish those high hopes by accounting for a career-high 17 points in her varsity playoff debut. She also had two blocks.
“Anika had an incredible second half for us,” said Selich. “She took the ball to the hole and hit a couple of big threes.”
Despite scoring the first basket of the game, the Cardinals didn’t get off to the start they envisioned. The Vulcans answered with a 10-0 run to take control early, but Millington clawed back at the end of the opening quarter with the final five points to trail 10-7.
Both teams had five points in the second quarter, which ended with Vassar taking a 15-12 lead into the locker room for halftime.
Coming out of the intermission, Millington looked like a completely different team than the one that was searching for consistency on the offensive end over the first two quarters.
With just 12 points total through two quarters, the Cardinals sailed past that number in the third quarter alone by outscoring Vassar 19-9, good for a 31-24 lead entering the fourth quarter. The third-quarter scoring output was one point off Millington’s best such effort of the season.
“We had a 20-point first quarter earlier in the season against Standish, but 19 is still way above our average,” said Selich.
Leading the Cardinals’ third-quarter scoring surge were Leah Denome and Moriah Babcock with six points each, and Sykes with five points. Babcock connected for a pair of 3-pointers, while Sykes also hit for one.
“We just needed to use better teamwork and started passing the ball better,” said Sykes of the second-half turnaround. “That was our best game of the season.”
Selich said the night-and-day difference separating his team’s first-half play from its greatly improved second-half effort was its shooting efficiency.
“In the first half we were 3-for-30 shooting. In the second half we ended up 12-for-24,” said Selich. “I’m very happy with the way we came back and showed a lot of intestinal fortitude.”
Sykes said the Cardinals have made it a point to focus their efforts on a game-to-game basis and not be as enamored with scoreboard watching.
“We always look to play like we’re down by 20,” said Sykes of what helps her and her teammates stay motivated from start to finish.
Despite entering the final game of the regular season with just one win to its name, Millington is now the owner of a two-game win streak. Its previous victory also came against Vassar in the Cardinals’ gym, which was the first of a back-to-back series with the Vulcans.
“In our last game with them we were up double digits and let off the gas a little to let them get back in the game,” said Selich, adding that he was unaware his team would face Vassar in districts after scheduling the nonleague game that capped off its regular season.
“We didn’t expect to play them back-to-back like that, which is always tough,” he continued. “All the credit to them too, because they played a great first half.”
Denome added eight points and three steals for Millington, Babcock finished with seven points and five rebounds, Madi Hahn grabbed 11 rebounds and Austin Palmer pulled down 10 boards.
“It’s a brand new season now, and we’re only looking at what’s in front of us,” said Selich of the Cardinals’ optimism leading into today’s game.
Vassar was led by Emilee Whitney’s nine points and eight rebounds, while Tristin Paquette finished with seven points and seven rebounds for the Vulcans.
Adam Smith is sports editor for The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.