Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips North Gwinnett's Lexi Brown goes up for two past Mill Creek's Jasmine Carter (32) on Friday.
HOSCHTON — Three and a half minutes into the first quarter, North Gwinnett coach Bryan Sellers could breathe a little sigh of relief.
“This was the game I was worried about,” Sellers said.
But by the first timeout, with 4:39 remaining in the first quarter, the Bulldogs led Mill Creek 11-0 and cruised to a 64-51 victory Friday night in the semifinals of the Region 7-AAAAA tournament. Sophomore point guard Lexie Brown had a game-high 28 points — 14 in each half — and sophomore forward Peyton Whitted scored 13.
It was the 18th straight victory for the Bulldogs, who will play Norcross for the region championship at 4:30 p.m. today. This is the first appearance in the region title game for North since the 2001-02 season.
“Our girls are never really too tight,” Sellers said. “They’re always kind of loosey, goosey, which is fun to be around, but at the same time, you’re kind of curious how they’re going to come out.”
That curiosity was quickly settled after the Bulldogs caused five turnovers and that Mill Creek timeout. North collected 14 turnovers by halftime and built a 21-point lead behind Brown and Whitted.
“We were probably trying to do too much,” Mill Creek coach Ashley Phillips said. “We were trying a little too hard to make things happen and getting out of our game a little bit. We did exactly what we couldn’t do early to let them get going.”
It was North’s third win over Mill Creek (14-13) this season. The Bulldogs (21-5) also won 73-54 and 53-47. Mill Creek’s loss also snapped its three-year run of region championships.
Phillips said he couldn’t point to one difference that led to North’s win, but said his team’s mental mistakes led to turnovers and fastbreak points for North. Phillips applauded Alicia Brookins’ defense on Brown and said many of Brown’s scoring came in the open court.
It wasn’t until North substituted its starters midway through the fourth quarter that the Hawks made the final score seem closer than it was. Three 3-pointers by guard Nadiya Miller made a dent in the deficit.
North won both games against Norcross this season, most recently on Feb. 11, 60-56. Those are the only in-state losses for the Blue Devils.
“I can see it being another fun game,” Sellers said. “It’s going to be fun to coach, and fun to watch.”