Golden Knights rally from 14 down for 42-39 girls tournament win over Tatnall

The Golden Knights’ Ambria Stratton goes for a basket past Tatnall’s Sophie Kirby. Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder

GEORGETOWN — When Sussex Central High’s Raeonna Stratton drove inside the paint and made an easy layup under the basket just 14 seconds into the second half Wednesday night, she was sending a message.

The senior didn’t want it to be her last game ever.

Raeonna and her cousin, Ambria Stratton, dug deep and helped the 13th-seeded Golden Knights erase a 14-point third quarter deficit to defeat Tatnall School, 42-39, in the first round of the DIAA girls’ basketball state tournament.

“It’s the state tournament, a win is a win,” said Sussex Central coach Ron Dukes. “I don’t care how you get it, I don’t care who it’s against, it’s tough come tournament time. We’ll take it and advance.”

Ambria, also a senior, scored a game-high 18 points. She scored 15 of those points in the third and fourth quarters.

Sussex Central’s Azayah Garrison, right, and Tatnall’s Kali Clayton fight for a loose ball during Wednesday night’s state tournament opening round game.

Raeonna finished the game with 12 points.

“At halftime, coach said, ‘do we want to go out like this?’ This could’ve been our last game, and we couldn’t go out like that,” Raeonna said of the comeback.

“He said we just have to fight if we want to go get it,” Ambria added. “It’s all on us, if we want to win we better go out there and give it our all.”

The first-round win over the 20th-seeded Hornets sets up the Golden Knights (14-7) with a second-round showdown against No. 4 Woodbridge High (20-1) Friday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Bridgeville.

The win in front of the home crowd marks the seventh consecutive season that the Golden Knights won in the opening round of the state tournament.

“It’s very exciting,” said Ambria. “I can’t wait for the second round, we have Woodbridge, we just need to go out there and give it our all.”

Central’s Brenya Reid goes for a basket over Tatnall’s Aryana Easterling.

Raeonna’s quick bucket sparked Central’s 21-8 third quarter run, erasing the team’s 29-15 deficit early in the second half to take a 34-33 lead heading into the final eight minutes.

“Most people would’ve given up when they were down 12 at halftime, but it was great, our crowd motivated us and we motivated each other and pushed through it,” said Raeonna.

The Golden Knights started the game with plenty of energy and quickly put together an 8-3 lead following a Raeonna three-pointer at the 3:31 mark of the opening quarter.

Tatnall responded with a 22-5 run over the game’s next 10 minutes to take the 25-13 halftime lead.

“We haven’t had a game in over two weeks, so we were rusty. We didn’t know what game intensity was like, we kind of lost that for a couple weeks,” Dukes said. “If you watched the first half, we would get them to take the shot we wanted, and they would end up getting a little bounce or a perfect rebound and put back. Every doggone one of those put backs went in. That hurt us.”

Sussex Central’s Brenya Reid takes a shot over Tatnall’s Aryana Easterling.

Five different Hornets scored points in Tatnall’s 14-point second quarter performance.

Freshman forward Sophie Kirby, Tatnall’s leading scorer with 12 points, knocked down a pair of three-pointers in the first half. Senior forward Aryana Easterling scored six of her eight points in the first and second quarters.

It took some halftime adjustments, but trailing 29-15 at the 6:39 mark of the third quarter the Golden Knights were able to piece together a 10-0 run over a span of 2:08 to pull to within four points.

“I asked them, ‘we’re going to press something, what do you want to press?’ and they wanted to go to a defense we hadn’t practiced in two weeks,” Dukes said of the halftime adjustment. “So that’s what we put out there, a 2-2-1, and it worked at times, sometimes it didn’t.

“But it rushed them, it hurried them up, and it got them thinking a little more and we were able to get a few steals out of it and make some good things happen.”

Following a Tatnall timeout, the Hornets jumped back up by six points, but Ambria Stratton banked in consecutive three-point shots at the 1:12 mark of the quarter to grab a 34-33 lead. It was Central’s first lead since the end of the first quarter.

Ambria hit her third unanswered three-pointer just 12 seconds into the fourth quarter to extend the lead to 37-33.

“They just started falling in,” she simply said.

The Golden Knights managed to fend off the Hornets late comeback attempt throughout the fourth quarter, even using a few long possessions to drain out the clock and pick up the three-point state tournament win.

“We probably killed three minutes or so off that clock at a period of time, then we went back to it for another minute and then they had to foul at that point,” explained Dukes.

“We were ready to fight [in the second half],” Raeonna said. “We couldn’t lose, so I knew I had to be a leader and fight to win.”

When the Golden Knights travel to Woodbridge Friday night, they are hoping to avenge a 62-57 Feb. 5 loss to the Blue Raiders, who went a perfect 20-0 in the regular season.

“Last time we played them, we were actually leading I think going into the fourth quarter and then we just didn’t finish the game. So, we know we can play with them,” said Dukes.

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