As Milford Mill High boys’ basketball team started the ceremonial cutting down of the nets after winning the Class 3A North Region title Friday evening, Isaiah McCray walked over to Millers’ coach Albert Holley. McCray broke down into tears as he hugged his coach.

It was a snapshot of three seasons of patience, hard work and dominance for the Milford Mill program. The No. 2 Millers fought off Parkville, 65-58, for a second straight state Final Four berth.

Junior guard Katrell Myers scored 16 points for Milford Mill (23-2 overall) with McCray, a senior guard bound to Colgate University, adding 15. James Milton led Parkville (18-8 overall) with 15 points and Skylar Collins finished with 11.

Thursday afternoon at 5 p.m. at the University of Maryland’s Comcast Center, Milford Mill will play either Friendly from Prince George’s County or southern Maryland’s LaPlata in a state semifinal contest. LaPlata and Friendly meet at noon Saturday at Henry A. Wise for the South Region championship.

The Millers once again had to lean on their big-game experience to turn away their Baltimore County league rivals and take another step in their pursuit of a second consecutive 3A state crown. Holley said the tougher the spot, the more his team excels.

“I told them during the timeout one of the reasons we battle and put them through so much is for moments like this,” said Holley. “When it gets tough, we’ve been through it every day in practice so they don’t get caught up in the moment or get rattled. They’re built to win tough games.”

“We got a lot of veterans on this team and have been in this position,” said McCray. “We just had to calm down and play our game.”

Trailing 51-50 with less than five minutes left in regulation, Milford Mill picked up its defensive pressure, forcing Parkville into four straight turnovers. The Millers scored eight straight points, capped by a steal and dunk by Myers and two free throws by McCray to claim a 58-51 with 2:45 to play.

The Knights used two free throws by Dennis Hughes, the hero in their semifinal victory over Aberdeen Wednesday, and a jumper by sophomore guard Isaiah Tripp, to close to within, 58-55. After Chase Cormier’s free throw gave Milford a four-point advantage with 1:08 left, McCray blocked a Parkville attempt, then Milton was called for an offensive foul.

The Millers closed it out from the free throw line, going 11 for 14 over the final four minutes of regulation. Milford Mill expected another tense battle after winning 57-50 on its home court a couple of weeks ago.

“We stepped up, we didn’t let nothing get to us,” said Myers. “We had our ups and downs but we kept playing through it.”

“It’s a ticket to Comcast,” said Hanner about the high stakes Friday.

isaiah mccray and albert holley Milford Mill looked like it was going to easily punch its ticket back to College Park, racing out to a 16-4 in the first quarter after a layup by senior Nick Smoot. The Panthers battled back to within 30-25 at halftime.

Milton put Parkville up 40-39 in the third with a basket in the paint, then a drive by sophomore guard Daquan Griffin had the Panthers up 44-40 with 1:10 left in the quarter. Milford Mill pulled even at 44 early in the fourth on a pair of free throws by Myers.

A three-pointer by Collins gave the Panthers a 51-49 with less than six minutes left in regulation, but went scoreless for the next three minutes, allowing Milford Mill to claim the lead for good. Parkville coach Rod Norris once again saw Milford Mill’s experience make the difference.

“When it’s time to win a game you have to execute and raise your game to another level,” said Norris, who led Parkville to its first state Final Four berth (Class 4A) in 2008. “They did what a successful team does, they picked it up defensively and they wanted it more.

They retrieve their misses, the guards are in there rebounding. It’s fun to watch, but it’s hard to teach.”

Milford Mill has built an impressive resume the three last seasons. In 2009, the Millers nearly ended Lake Clifton’s bid for a perfect season in the 3A North Region finals. They stormed back last season to win its first state championship since 1994, and claimed its third straight Baltimore County crown this winter.

Now, Milford Mill stands two victories away from cementing its own legacy.

“Coach Holley told me when I came to Milford Mill we were going to be in championships and now we have the opportunity to leave a legacy,” said McCray. “It’s been a good journey, but the journey is not over yet.”