Delaware State News photos/Marc Clery
CAMDEN — Stephen Re knows that building a team usually doesn’t happen overnight.
“The season is always a process,” said the Cape Henlopen High boys’ basketball coach. “And when you’re dealing with young adults, they’re not going to do exactly what you want them to do the first month, the second month, third month. … sometimes they don’t do it at all.
“And sometimes they do,” he continued. “And when they do, things like tonight can happen.”
What the 17th-seeded Vikings did Wednesday night was take control early and then pull away to a decisive 71-53 victory over No. 16 Caesar Rodney in the first round of the DIAA state tournament.
Cape (15-6) never trailed after the opening five minutes in avenging an 11-point loss to the Riders (14-7) on Jan. 27.
The victory gives the Vikings the opportunity to try to avenge another loss. On Friday, Cape heads to top-seeded Mount Pleasant (18-3) for a 7 p.m. second-round matchup.
The Vikings fell to the Green Knights, 48-42, on Dec. 27 at Slam Dunk to the Beach after leading by four going into the fourth quarter.
On Wednesday, Cape opened up 20-11 advantage when Sh’Kai Chandler buried back-to-back three-pointers to end the first quarter. The Vikings stretched their lead to 34-22 at halftime and never led by fewer than eight points in the second half.
Randy Rickards netted a game-high 28 points for Cape with fellow junior Ian Robertson adding 16.
“I think we want it more,” Rickards said about the Vikings’ improvement. “I think everybody figured out, it’s not about them, it’s just about us as a whole team.”
“We had to come out ready to play,” said Robertson. “They know us and we know them so we had to bring our all. … This was one of our best games of the season.”
A few times in the second half, CR looked like it might have a chance to get back in the game. But the Riders missed a number of shots from close range.
The Vikings had plenty of answers, too, eventually opening up their first 20-point lead at 63-43 with 1:33 remaining. Cape went up by as many as 22 a minute later.
“When we can see the ball going in the basket, we can have success early. … defensively, we’re going to be ready,” said Re. “It’s a matter of us being able to execute and make some shots. We made some shots tonight.
“We’ve been working on it relentlessly over the last couple weeks. I always tell them, offense is always the last thing to come. You’ve got to learn how to work hard, you’ve got to learn how to play together.”
It was a difficult ending for the Riders, who had a seven-game winning streak at one point this season. Jaquan Hooks (15 points), Shaft Clark (14) and Davione Robinson (12) all scored in double figures for CR.
Coach Freeman Williams said it was tough saying goodbye to his five seniors.
“Shots that were falling in the early part of the year weren’t falling for us,” said Williams. “To their credit, I thought they did a good job of making plays, too. When we went on our runs, they were able to answer.
“Things didn’t work the way that we wanted to but we’re really appreciative of the effort they (CR’s players) gave us during the course of the whole season.”
Cape, on the other hand, still has at least one more game to play.
The Vikings say they’re looking forward to getting the chance to play Mount Pleasant again. They know that the Green Knights’ No. 1 seeding is just a number.
“We’ve got to fight, we’ve got to compete just like any other game,” said Rickards. “It doesn’t matter if you’re one, it doesn’t matter if you’re 12. You can win, it doesn’t matter. Anybody can lose.”
“I’m super proud of this group,” said Re. “Hopefully our best game is still to come.
“The last time we played them (Mount Pleasant) it was a one-possession game all the way up until the final three minutes. We weren’t mature back then. We’re a different team today. We’ll see what happens.”