Panther girls top St. Georges 60-41 for 1st tourney win in 11 years

Polytech’s Jazmin Kellam works her way to the basket against St. Georges in the first quarter at Polytech on Wednesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

WOODSIDE — Polytech High’s players weren’t feeling a whole lot of respect from the girls’ basketball world after making the state tournament.

The Panthers knew the only way to convince people they belonged was by proving it on the court.

No. 11 Polytech did just that, pulling away in the fourth quarter to a 60-41 victory over No. 22 St. Georges in the first round of the DIAA state tournament on Wednesday night.

For the Panthers (14-7), who were in the tourney for the first time since 2014, it was the program’s first state tournament win since 2009.

In a hard-fought contest, Polytech out-scored the Blue Hen Conference champion Hawks by a 24-8 margin in the fourth quarter to close out the win.

Polytech’s Yaa Asantewa Afriyie shoots a jumper against St. Georges in the second quarter at Polytech on Wednesday.

“We’ve been working really hard,” said junior Jazmin Kellam, who tallied 17 points. “A lot of people doubted us. A lot of people didn’t think we could get it so it feels good coming up as underdogs.”

“A lot of people kind of count Polytech out,” said senior Yaa Yaa Afriyie, who finished with a game-high 26 points. “They don’t see the drive that we have and all the work we put in. Coming to the playoffs and winning in the first round means a lot to me because people downplay Polytech.”

Just by chance, the Panthers ended up playing the Hawks (13-9) in back-to-back games. Polytech also beat St. Georges, 48-32, in its regular-season finale.

But that game was played on Feb. 18. While the Panthers had the last three weeks open, the Hawks played three games, beating A.I. DuPont for the Blue Hen title.

The last thing Polytech coach Kyle Taylor wanted was for his players to think was that beating St. Georges a second time was a foregone conclusion.

Sure enough, the game went back-and-forth for most of the first three quarters. There were four lead changes and a pair of ties before the Panthers took a 25-20 lead into halftime.

The Panthers’ Heaven Hendricks drives to the basket against St. Georges’ Joy Watson in the first quarter.

The Hawks closed within 34-33 on a three-point play from freshman Elia Richardson (18 points) with 1:14 remaining in the third quarter. Polytech still led just 38-36 with 5:03 left in the contest.

The Panthers, though, got a big three-pointer sophomore Maria Granitto to grab a 42-36 advantage and the shot seemed to ignite Polytech. The Panthers went on a 10-0 run and eventually netted 22 of the game’s final 26 points.

Polytech, which had seven different players score, got a couple key baskets from some of its younger players.

“In the second half, we were just really, really coordinated,” said Afriyie. “We had good passes and we just kind of worked as a team. Everybody scored. It wasn’t just a one or two-man team. We all contributed tonight.”

Polytech has won 12 of its 14 games since the beginning of January. Now comes the Panthers’ most difficult test yet, though.

Polytech’s second-round tournament game is on Friday at 7 p.m. against sixth-seeded Padua (13-6). The contest is being played at Salesianum in Wilmington.

Polytech’s Jazmin Kellam, center, battles between St. Georges defenders Aniyah Williams, left, and Joy Watson in the second quarter.

“We know they’re really, really hard players,” said Kellam. “We’ve got to play our game but they’re definitely very talented so we’ve got to match them.”

“I definitely know that Padua is going to be more difficult than any game that we played,” said Afriyie. “But, as a team, we’re going to keep working. … No matter what happens on that floor when we play them, we’re definitely going to give our hearts.

“People are definitely counting us out against them. But, even if we lose, it’s an honor to even get the opportunity to play them in the second round.”