Dover High — Almost perfect

NEWARK — An ever-elusive championship trophy was so close the Dover High School boys’ basketball team and its blue-and-white clad legion of supporters who traveled to the University of Delaware’s Bob Carpenter Center could reach out and touch it on Saturday afternoon.

Then, at the last-possible moment, top-seeded Sanford School ruined those championship-party plans.

Sanford pulled the trophy away after the Warriors’ Hasaan Perkins had a steal and fed the ball to teammate Corey Perkins, who drained a layup in the paint to extend Sanford’s lead to 48-45 with seven seconds remaining.

Dover had one more chance at history. Or at least to force overtime. But Eden Davis missed a 3-pointer to tie the game from beyond the right arc with one second remaining as the No. 2-seed Senators came up just short of completing the perfect season in the DIAA boys’ basketball state championship game.

Even though Dover finished its season 24-1, its players still managed to capture the hearts and imaginations of both the city and school communities in the capital city this winter.

Following the game, Senator coach Stephen Wilson made note of the support the team received not just Saturday, but throughout the season.

“I’m appreciative of the people who are coming to support us,” Coach Wilson said. “I think maybe we’ll have our stands back full in the beginning (of next season) because of how these young men represent themselves.”

Glenn Turpin, an alumnus of Dover High, wasn’t ready to forget this season as he ventured down to the bottom of the grandstands at the Carpenter Center as the Senators headed off to their locker room, many of them with their heads held low, telling the players how much everybody appreciated their efforts.

“That was just fantastic,” Mr. Turpin said, as the team walked past. “Keep your heads up! You guys played your hearts out!”

He said it was just an unforgettable season for the Senators and their supporters.

“Two days ago, my partner from high school who I hadn’t seen for 25 years or so, calls me and tells me they had tickets for the game,” said Mr. Turpin. “He said, ‘Brother, bring your son out and we’ll go to the game together.’ It was fantastic. The whole community is out here. All of us old-heads have been waiting for this.

“Our team did great. With a score like that, there are no losers.”

Not only was it quite a season for the Senators, it was quite a day on Saturday in front of a sellout crowd.

Dozens and dozens of members of the community turned up in the Dover High School parking lot at 10:30 Saturday morning and sent the Senators on their way to the Carpenter Center in style.

Team supporters held homemade good luck signs and banners and two trucks from the Dover Fire Department — with ladders extended over the roadway — sent the players on their way in search of history.

“That was amazing,” said Kevin Turner, Dover High athletic director. “The fire department and the police department kind of team up and gave the guys a great send off. They’ve worked hard and earned the special accolades and things that come with that and we’re happy this afternoon to get to rally behind the kids.”

Mike Christman, a HVAC teacher at Dover High, got it started about 15 minutes before tipoff when he screamed loudly at everybody within shouting distance in the grandstands the very first, “D-High, you know?” of the afternoon.

“We’re predicting a win,” Mr. Christman said. “We’re going to get rowdy, we’re going to get loudy, and we’re going to take home that state championship. We need it right now. We need a big win for our school.”

The basketball team’s never-say-die performance had the pep band hitting the highest of notes and the cheerleaders rallying the student section in the Carpenter Center. After all, the lead changed 11 times throughout the game and it was tied on eight other occasions.

“I think that they’re really all-in and they have a lot of potential and they’re really starting to do it this year,” DHS sophomore cheerleader Sydney Potts said, of the basketball team. “I think this is our year. I think they’re bringing everybody together, everybody’s rooting for them, and we’re all united.”

Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen certainly agreed with Ms. Potts. He said when a team excels like this one has, it helps to draw the community together.

“It’s raising (the spirit) of Dover higher than it has in a long time,” Mayor Christiansen said. “The thing about these kids is that their coach has welded the into a well-rounded team. Not only are they great basketball players, great teammates, but they’re also great academic students – and that’s the whole package.”

Dover High Principal Courtney Voshell said when a team finds success, it naturally sprouts school pride throughout the hallways.

“They’ve kept the atmosphere going,” Ms. Voshell said. “We had a great fall season with our football team, as well as our track and a lot of our sports have gone pretty far, so to keep it going during the winter, we just keep doing our thing and the atmosphere keeps growing with excitement.

“I’m extremely proud, especially since I grew up as a Senator and wearing blue-and-white is all I know, so I’m extremely excited to be sitting in a sea of blue-and-white.”

For the most part, the game was simply euphoria for Senator nation, until the closing minute. Dover held a 45-44 lead with 59 seconds remaining after Elijah Allen sank a jump shot and completed a three-point play by draining a free throw.

Then, everything went Sanford’s way.

Dover seniors Kylen Thomas, John Lassiter, Janai Moore, Keith Bessicks, Mohamed Conde and Eric White took their best shot at making history for the school. The other members of the team hope to be back in the future to try it all again.

Dover has never won a state championship in boys’ basketball, finishing runner-up in the tournament five times. Besides Saturday, the Senators fell on a controversial buzzer-beater in 1972 to Wilmington before losses to Brandywine (1977), Glasgow (2003) and Sanford (2010).

The city of Dover took one more moment to celebrate one remarkable season on social media.

“So proud of our Dover High Boys Basketball Team!,” the city posted. “We are proud of the terrific season you had! 2nd in the State, you fought hard, and played this season remarkably well. You made Sanford work for it — hold your heads high!!

“We ARE D-High Proud.”

Mr. Turner just knew Dover was on the verge of making history before Saturday’s game.

“It’s a special moment, they have a chance to have a very special season,” he said, “but it’s been a special season no matter what happens (Saturday), but if they can get this last ‘W’ it will be a very special moment and that would be part of Dover High School history forever.”

Now, the Senators — and their faithful legion of supporters — will have to wait at least one more year for that ever-so-elusive championship feeling.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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