Boys state tournament Final Four: Eagles’ Mears, Ravens’ Boyd eye semifinals tonight

Smyrna coach Andrew Mears

NEWARK — For both coaches, these are the biggest games their programs have ever played.

That, of course, also makes them the biggest games their current group of players have ever been in.

But the job for both Smyrna High’s Andrew Mears and St. Thomas More’s Cheston Boyd is to get their players to see that these are just two more basketball games — no different than any other they’ve played.

Sometimes it really is the squad that settles in and plays its usual game that walks away the winner in big moments like tonight’s DIAA boys’ basketball state Final Four at the Carpenter Center.

Both second-seeded St. Thomas More (19-3) and No. 5 Smyrna (21-2) will be making their first appearances in the semifinals. The Ravens face No. 19 Caravel (17-6) at 6:30 p.m. with the Eagles taking on No. 9 St. Georges (19-4) at approximately 8 p.m.

St. Thomas More coach Cheston Boyd

It might be the first time that two Kent County schools have reached the Final Four in the same year.

“It’s hard to take the excitement off of it,” said Mears. “But I think that the pressure has also brought up our guys’ focus. It’s been good.

“We’re going to try to approach it like it’s just another game. But these guys have that excitement in them. They’re ready to play.”

“When the stakes are this high, it doesn’t take much to motivate kids who really want it,” said Boyd. “And my kids really want it.”

Going into the state tournament, most people thought that the seeding wouldn’t carry much weight.

It hasn’t. St. Thomas More is the only top-four seed still remaining while two more teams outside the top eight have reached the semis.

Mears certainly isn’t putting any stock in the fact that Smyrna is seeded four spots higher than the Hawks. St. Georges has reached the state finals in two of the last three years.

“The stage is pretty familiar to them,” said Mears. “We’ve got a lot of respect for Coach Rod (Griffin) over there. He sure knows what he’s doing and I’m sure he’s comfortable in this moment.”

The Hawks are led by senior guard Kyson Rawls, who may be as good as any player in the state. Rawls netted 23 points on Sunday when St. Georges rallied from an early 17-4 deficit to pull away to a 64-48 victory over top-seeded Mount Pleasant in the quarterfnals.

The Hawks have won 10 games in a row with two of their four losses coming against out-of-state schools. Smyrna, on the other hand, owns a 16-game winning streak with only one in-state loss (to Sanford).

The seeding disparity between No. 2 St. Thomas More and No. 19 Caravel is even bigger. The Ravens also beat the Buccaneers, 56-44, on Caravel’s home court on Jan. 14.

But things have changed a lot since then.

St. Thomas More no longer has senior Elias Revelle, who netted a team-high 18 points in the game. Caravel has also won seven in a row since falling to Lake Forest, 67-57, on Feb. 10.

“Caravel’s on a roll,” said Boyd, whose team has won 16 in a row. “We were watching them play today (Sunday) and they’re groving. They’re sharing the ball much better than the first time we saw them and they’re knocking down shots.

“We’ve got to understand that it is definitely a different Caravel team than we saw a month and a half ago. Although we’re excited to go to the Final Four, we’ve got to to go back to work. Those guys are playing well. We’ll have to come in and play well, as well.”

If either Smyrna or St. Thomas More wins again tonight, they’ll have a chance to make some more history in Saturday’s 1 p.m. state finals.

The 1997 Seaford squad remains the last downstate school to win the boys’ state crown. Only five downstate teams have reached the title game since then.

Of course, Mears also know that, if the Eagles don’t give their full attention to getting past St. Georges, there won’t be a game on Saturday.

“We’re just all in for Thursday night,” said Mears. “That’s where our focus has been. We haven’t even thought about the next game or even the potential matchup. It’s just all St. Georges.”

“I tell them, it’s another game,” said Boyd. “The rim size is the same, the ball is going to be the same size. At the end of the day, the same ‘Xs’ and ‘Os’ that got us here are the same ones that are going to propel us on.”

Free throws

Tickets for tonight’s doubleheader are $8 and are available online at www.statechamps.com/DIAA. The Carpenter Center box office opens at 5 p.m. … Sunday’s two quarterfinal doubleheaders drew paying crowds of 2,721 for the first one and 3,366 for the second in the 5,000-seat arena. … The last five downstate teams to reach the state finals are all from Kent County: Polytech (2015), Dover (2011), Caesar Rodney (2010), Dover (2003) and Lake Forest (1999). … Caravel is the only one of this year’s four semifinalists to have won the state title, capturing the crown in 2008.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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