Delaware State News photos/Marc Clery
NEWARK — Bill Victory isn’t the first basketball coach who’s watched his team’s state championship dreams shatter on the Carpenter Center court.
The veteran Caesar Rodney High girls’ coach has seen it himself a few times before.
But that experience didn’t make it any easier to swallow when the No. 2 Riders went down quietly to seventh-seeded St. Elizabeth, 58-36, in the DIAA state quarterfinals on Saturday afternoon.
The Vikings (15-7) emphatically avenged a two-point, early-season loss to CR (21-2) by netting the first 17 points of the third quarter to turn a five-point contest into a runaway.
Of course, Victory knew St. E’s had all the motivation in the world after its 50-48 overtime loss to the Riders on Dec. 12.
“I’m telling you right now, they came here looking for Caesar Rodney blood,” said Victory. “And they found it.
“They struck that jugular right from the very beginning and didn’t back up off it. And when we couldn’t answer, they just knocked us out.”
CR led only once in the contest, 5-4, on an Alissa Haith jumper with 4:58 left in the first quarter. Still, the Riders hung in there, pulling within a point a few times in the first half before trailing only 27-22 at intermission.
Then came the third quarter, however.
CR didn’t get its first points of the period until sophomore Kylie Kornegay-Lucas scored with only 1:30 remaining. By then, the Vikings’ advantage had ballooned to 44-22 and the contest was all but over.
“We were in a hole we couldn’t climb out of and we dug it with a forklift,” said Victory. “Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.”
“That first half was sloppy and out of control in my opinion,” said St. Elizabeth coach Dan Cooney. “We got too sloppy and needed to calm it down. That’s what we did in the second half. We played more organized basketball and you saw what we’re capable of doing.”
Kornegay-Lucas had emerged as the Riders’ top scorer the last few weeks, tallying 48 points in just the last two games. But the newcomer from California got in early foul trouble and scored just six points while playing only 10 minutes.
She fouled out on the last play of the third quarter.
“We just let it get away from us in the third quarter,” said junior guard Alexis Reid, who scored a team-high 15 points. “I just felt it was hard to pick our heads back up. With Kylie in foul trouble, I just don’t think we had strong enough minds to get past it.”
“That sophomore is going to be someone to reckon with in this state in a few years,” Cooney said. “To get her in foul trouble and get her off the court and then fouled out for most of the second half was big. She’s been their offense lately.”
The Riders shot just 23.2 percent for the game (13-for-56) and turned the ball over 25 times. Reid, Haith (8 points) and Kornegay-Lucas were the only CR players who hit more than one field goal.
Reid kept CR in the game early, scoring 12 of the Riders’ first 16 points. That stretch included hitting three three-pointers — the only threes that CR hit in the contest.
In the end, it wasn’t enough. The Vikings had three players score in double figures, led by Alexis Lee with 15.
The Riders, who are still trying to make the program’s first appearance in the state finals, figure to be a contender again next winter. CR had only three seniors on the roster — Haith, Destiny Johnson and Victoria Sebastian.
“Definitely, we see what we have to work on,” said Reid. “We’re just going to come back stronger next year. Since most of us have already been here now, next year we shouldn’t even think of just coming here. We should think about going further.”
But, of course, that’s the issue. In a sport where the 2003 Polytech squad remains the only downstate team to win the state crown, figuring out how to get his team to play better on this big stage is the problem Victory needs to solve.
“Having the opportunity to come up here is a great thing,” he said. “(But) I’m not sure what the answer is. In 25 years I still haven’t figured it out.
“But the sun’s going to come up tomorrow and I’ve got another shot at making it right,” Victory added. “I’ve got another year to come back and see what we can do.”
Reach sports editor Andy Walter at firstname.lastname@example.org