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Girls basketball: Millbrook beats Section 6's Randolph to repeat as Class C state champion

TROY - The plan was to blast the Queen classic "We are the Champions" repeatedly on the ride home to Millbrook. Their bus driver, with control of the AUX, would keep the song on loop as the merry gang sang along.

It begged the question, though: Wouldn’t that get monotonous during a 90-minute trip? If not to the players, their coach, perhaps.

“Nope,” senior Ella Wilson said with a grin, “and he doesn’t have a choice.”

Millbrook celebrates their 59-45 win over Randolph to claim the girls NYSPHSAA Class C championship title at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, on Sunday, March 19, 2023.
Millbrook celebrates their 59-45 win over Randolph to claim the girls NYSPHSAA Class C championship title at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, on Sunday, March 19, 2023.

This was a fitting end to their weekend and, in a way, apropos. After all, the Blazers are the champions after having essentially looped the previous basketball season.

Millbrook on Sunday capped another remarkable playoff run, capturing a second straight Class C state championship in a fashion almost identical to theirs last season.

“Winning it last year, you know how good it feels and you don’t want to be without that feeling,” senior Beth Bosan said. “Wanting to experience that again is what drove us, and that makes this so amazing.”

Returning the bulk of its core after last winter, the pervading belief was the Blazers had a chance to duplicate that success. This group, somehow, was even more dominant on its way to being crowned for the third time in four complete seasons.

Ella Wilson had 19 points, seven rebounds, six assists and three steals, leading Millbrook in a 59-45 victory over Section 6's Randolph at Hudson Valley Community College.

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“I’m kind of a pessimist,” coach Adam Peek said with a sheepish smile. “But I knew if we were healthy and played the way we could, a team would really have to bring their lunch pail to beat us.”

Millbrook's Ella Wilson (22) puts up a shot during their 59-45 win over Randolph in the girls NYSPHSAA Class C championship game at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, on Sunday, March 19, 2023.
Millbrook's Ella Wilson (22) puts up a shot during their 59-45 win over Randolph in the girls NYSPHSAA Class C championship game at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, on Sunday, March 19, 2023.

Teams certainly tried as Millbrook, wearing that figurative “defending champion” target, did get the best effort of most opponents. But, more often than not, the Blazers took their proverbial lunch.

“This is surreal,” senior Emily Grasseler said. The gold medal ensured her mom, Liz Conklin, had a happy birthday. “It’s a weird feeling because you’re elated, but also kind of sad because it’s over. But there was no better way to go out than this.”

The Cardinals, undersized but gritty and relentless, gave the Section 9 powerhouse its best competition from a small-school opponent in a year. Millbrook's 14-point win was its closest playoff victory since a nine-point margin in the 2022 state final.

“We’re the only team in Class C still standing,” center Natalie Fox said. “When you think about how many teams there are, how many great teams, and we’re the ones in this position again. It’s an incredible feeling.”

Millbrook's Beth Bosan (5) drives to the paint during their 59-45 win over Randolph in the girls NYSPHSAA Class C championship game at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, on Sunday, March 19, 2023.
Millbrook's Beth Bosan (5) drives to the paint during their 59-45 win over Randolph in the girls NYSPHSAA Class C championship game at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, on Sunday, March 19, 2023.

With a complement of athleticism, size, skill and guile, the Blazers steamrolled postseason opponents by an average of 31.3 points and proved, without question, they were the best. Again.

Millbrook led from the outset, racing to a 7-0 lead and holding the Cardinals scoreless for the first four minutes. But Randolph was resilient, responding with a surge each time it seemed Millbrook was poised to pull away.

The Cardinals narrowed a 12-point deficit and got within 34-32 on Kyra Pence’s three with 4:11 left in the third quarter. But Wilson answered with two 3-pointers in 30 seconds.

“She’s always the toughest kid on the court,” Peek said of the point guard. “She’s got the heart of a lion and she finds a way to lead.”

Millbrook's Ella Wilson (22) and Hudson Heitmann (1) celebrate their 59-45 win over Randolph in the girls NYSPHSAA Class C championship game at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, on Sunday, March 19, 2023.
Millbrook's Ella Wilson (22) and Hudson Heitmann (1) celebrate their 59-45 win over Randolph in the girls NYSPHSAA Class C championship game at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, on Sunday, March 19, 2023.

Wilson has earned a reputation for delivering in the clutch, dating back to the ninth grade. Her introduction to the big stage was the 2020 section final, when the freshman scored 24 points to lead a second-half comeback. Since then, there have been several stellar performances under pressure and big shots at pivotal moments.

The performance Sunday in her final high school game was, essentially, a bow and curtsy. The championship plaque she held tightly afterwards was the basketball version of a bouquet. The toast was made with bottles of chocolate milk.

“It’s the intensity of these games,” said Wilson, who was 5 for 6 on threes. “All I wanna do is win and I’m just so hyped and locked in when there’s something important on the line.”

Millbrook's Emily Grasseler (33) with a layup during their 59-45 win over Randolph in the girls NYSPHSAA Class C championship game at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, on Sunday, March 19, 2023.
Millbrook's Emily Grasseler (33) with a layup during their 59-45 win over Randolph in the girls NYSPHSAA Class C championship game at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, on Sunday, March 19, 2023.

Grasseler added 14 points and nine rebounds for the Blazers (21-3). Bosan, in addition to excellent perimeter defense, had 11 points and four assists. Fox had seven points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block, and Hudson Heitmann had seven points and four rebounds.

“They’re funny with a little sass,” Peek said of the personality of his team. “But when you roll the ball out, they’re as mentally tough as any team. They play together and don’t care about stats or leading the team in scoring. That mindset helps.”

Katelyn Storer's layup got Randolph within 44-39 a minute into the fourth quarter. But the Blazers answered with seven straight points, including a three and fast-break layup from Heitmann, who also came up with one of three steals Millbrook had on successive possessions.

Payton Morrison scored 20 and Quinn Pence had 10 points and five rebounds for Randolph (21-5).

The Cardinals were physical ― often bordering on fouls ― throughout. To counter the size disadvantage inside, they rushed to double whenever the 6-foot-3 Fox or 6-foot-1 Grasseler received the ball.

Millbrook's Hudson Heitmann (1) puts up a shot during their 59-45 win over Randolph in the girls NYSPHSAA Class C championship game at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, on Sunday, March 19, 2023.
Millbrook's Hudson Heitmann (1) puts up a shot during their 59-45 win over Randolph in the girls NYSPHSAA Class C championship game at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, on Sunday, March 19, 2023.

Those two, the imposing tandem around which this offense was centered, were relatively contained. But Millbrook showed its collective might as other players picked up the scoring.

“They were a tough team and we struggled with their defense at some points,” Bosan admitted, “but we just had to make smart passes and find openings.”

A motivating factor the last two years, players said, is a belief that four state championships were within their reach, had the pandemic not denied the pursuit. A day after winning their regional semifinal in 2020, COVID-19 paused the world. The state tournament also was cancelled the following year.

“We think we could’ve had a dynasty,” Wilson said. “But getting a couple (state titles) kind of makes up for it.”

Millbrook will lose four seniors, each of them starters, and the task next season will be developing a cadre of underclassmen. The program did transition smoothly when a slew of standouts graduated following their 2018 state championship.

Millbrook defeats Randolph 59-45 to claim the girls NYSPHSAA Class C championship title at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, on Sunday, March 19, 2023.
Millbrook defeats Randolph 59-45 to claim the girls NYSPHSAA Class C championship title at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, on Sunday, March 19, 2023.

Charlie Moore, Lydia Kascak, Sailor Heitmann, Hannah Ross and Sarah Marchant ― talented but inexperienced youngsters ― are names to become familiar with as they’ll likely play prominent roles.

“I think we’re still gonna be a good team, but it’ll be a different team,” said Fox, a junior. “I’m glad we were able to end on a high note with this group of seniors.”

The Blazers were greeted by their fans and community members as the bus pulled into town, and that Freddie Mercury tune was cranked up once more. The celebration, Bosan said, carries into Monday, when the players wear their championship t-shirts to school.

It's the kinda thing ya do when you are the champions.

Stephen Haynes: shaynes@poughkeepsiejournal.com; 845-437-4826; Twitter: @StephenHaynes4

This article originally appeared on Poughkeepsie Journal: Girls basketball: Ella Wilson, Millbrook win second straight state title