What could have spelled disaster for No. 7 Milford Mill in Saturday's Class 3A North final instead provided a much-needed moment of inspiration.
On the ropes against Parkville midway through the second half, the Millers lost top-scorer Isaiah McCray to a back injury after the junior collided with the Knights' James Milton in transition. The game was delayed several minutes as McCray, who had 16 points at the time, lay sprawled on the court.
Once action resumed, host Milford Mill took command, scoring 21 of the next 27 points on its way to a 73-64 win.
"We wanted to regroup," senior captain Anthony Goode said. "I brought the team together and said, 'We have to have some leadership.' We didn't want to lose at home, especially to a Baltimore County team. We had to put some heart together and just win."
The Millers (23-3) advance to the Class 3A state semifinals, where they will face an opponent to be determined at 5 p.m. Thursday at Comcast Center. The back-to-back Baltimore County champions will be making their first trip to states since 1997, seeking their first title since 1994.
To get there, however, they first had to outlast a hungry Parkville (19-6) team, which fought back from an early 10-point deficit to take a 40-38 lead on Josh Corbett's 3-point play with 4:25 left in the third. Guard Denzel Walker led the Knights with 21 points, including four 3-pointers.
That momentum changed after the injury. Down by four, Milford turned up the intensity and seemed to get a step quicker. The hosts took the lead on a 3-pointer by Troy Branch (12 points) and quickly extended it to seven on Demetrius Johnson's follow-up 3-point play.
"Once they sort of settled in and elevated their level, I think we were all right," Milford coach Al Holley said. "They all know that they've got roles, and we've got enough players that we don't really depend on one kid, even as talented as Isaiah is. I think they all just naturally started doing their jobs."
Parkville managed a late run, cutting a 12-point deficit to four in the final two minutes, before the Millers sealed the win on consecutive fast-break layups by Johnson and Branch.
Milford, which had advanced to the state semifinals eight times during the 1980s and 1990s, will be making its first trip to College Park in 13 years.
"It means a lot," Goode said. "I feel like we're part of history now."
P-Walker 21, S. Collins 8, C. Collins 11, Duncan 6, Corbett 8, Debreaux 3, Milton 7. Totals: 15 16-20 64.
MM-Branch 12, Goode 8, Hamilton 9, Hanner 11, Jackson 2, Johnson 9, McCray 16, Miller 6. Totals: 19 21-33 73.
Half: MM, 38-33.