Howard knocks St. Thomas More out of tourney

St. Thomas More’s Jessica Simmons and Marlena Gordon are boxed out by Howard’s Kiyah Dale, Jaymail Hollis and Zariyah Jackson at St. Thomas More near Magnolia. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

MAGNOLIA — So many times over the last several seasons, St. Thomas More’s girls’ basketball team has looked out-numbered.

But, so many times, it didn’t matter.

On Friday night, though, the Ravens couldn’t find a way to overcome.

Eleventh-seeded Howard rallied for the final 10 points of the contest to knock off No. 6 St. Thomas More, 57-53, in the second round of the DIAA girls’ basketball state tournament.

It was a tough ending for the Ravens (16-5), who made it to the state Final Four last year despite having just eight players in the program each of the last two seasons.

“I knew that they had a lot of depth and I knew that they would come at us,” said St. Thomas More coach Crystal Gordon. “I was hoping that we would just keep our composure and be able to ride out the storm.

“The details are what mattered when it’s close.”

The Blue Hen Conference champion Wildcats (19-4) tied the contest at 53-53 on a pair of free throws by Jaymail Hollis with 36.9 seconds left.

The Ravens, though, beat the Howard press down the floor on their ensuing possession. Senior Aniah Patterson drove the baseline and passed the ball to teammate Jessica Simmons coming down the lane.

The shot, however, rolled off the rim. To make matters worse, Simmons was called for her fifth foul as she battled for the rebound.

St. Thomas More’s Olivia Lynch shoots against Howard VoTech at St. Thomas More near Magnolia. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Ronnasia Blatch-Huggins hit one of the two ensuing free throws to give Howard a 54-53 lead with 27.8 seconds left. Hollis then stole the ball after the second foul shot and quickly laid it in to give the Wildcats a 56-53 advantage.

“It came down to that last layup,” Patterson said about the Ravens’ missed shot. “There’s no one to blame. After that our momentum went down. I wouldn’t say we gave up but our intensity definitely dropped.”

“When Jessica fouled out, emotionally, I think it did a lot for them,” said Gordon.

In the final 17.7 seconds, St. Thomas More missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw situation, Patterson fouled out and Hollis hit another free throw. The final 10 minutes of the hard-fought contest featured 10 lead changes.

“I’m a competitor so this is hard for me,” said Gordon. “Eight players or not, we got to the Final Four last year. The expectation is always to win. Of course, there’s always things I’ll question myself on.

“But, at the end of the day, I told the girls we will leave it all out here and they did.”

Blatch-Huggins, Howard’s 6-foot senior, netted a game-high 22 points. Na’leigha Wright added 14 points with Hollis scoring 11.

Patterson had a team-high 20 points in her last game for St. Thomas More with freshman Glennyce James adding 15, including three three-pointers.

St. Thomas More’s Aniah Patterson shoots for two against Howard at St. Thomas More near Magnolia. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

St. Thomas More was playing its first game since Feb. 19. The Ravens fell behind 8-0 to start the game, were behind 27-22 at halftime and trailed by six in the third quarter.

But St. Thomas More forged a 53-47 lead on a pair of Patterson free throws with less than three minutes left. It just wasn’t enough.

“I think we played better than we ever have before,” said Patterson. “We came together and we played as a team. I think that’s what helped us keep our momentum.”

Patterson and Simmons finish their four-year careers with a record of 63-21. It was the most successful stretch in the program’s history.

“I think we definitely could have gone farther with our team this year but every great thing has to come to an end,” said Patterson, a Smyrna resident. “I guess this is our ending, which is OK. It’s been very fun. I’ve built a family and people that I know I’ll be able to talk to for the rest of my life.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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