Raven girls earn first trip to state quarterfinals

MAGNOLIA — The St. Thomas More girls’ basketball program has had its share of proud moments.

But nothing like this.

By putting away No. 12 Dover, 48-31, in the second round of the DIAA state tournament on Thursday night, the fifth-seeded Ravens earned their first trip to the state quarterfinals.

And that means St. Thomas More (17-2) will also be making its first appearance in the Carpenter Center when it takes on No. 4 Concord (21-1) on Saturday at 5 p.m. in Newark.

For a program that hasn’t won more than six games in a season over the last three years, this is pretty heady stuff.

“It’s crazy, we’re making history in this school,” said junior Sarah Pool, one of the few veterans on the Ravens’ roster. “It’s phenomenal.”

“I’m speechless,” said coach Crystal Gordon. “It feels great. It hasn’t sunk in yet.

“I just need to breathe in this moment and we’ll go from there,” she added as St. Thomas More’s parents, players and fans celebrated around the court.

Against the Senators (10-11), the Ravens trailed only briefly in the first few minutes. But then they reeled off 19 straight points to open up a gaping 22-4 advantage and Dover never caught them again.

While the Senators made the game more competitive in the second half, they never got closer than within 12 points in the fourth quarter.

St. Thomas More forced Dover into 17 turnovers in the first 14 minutes of the contest when it built a 26-6 lead. Senators coach Katie Byrnes said the Ravens’ speed was difficult to contend with.

“They’re just so quick,” she said. “They’re not very big but they are just quick. And they have great ball-handling skills. It was pretty impressive to watch.”

“We played great defense,” said Gordon. “That’s what I tell them — defense wins games. And we played together as a team.

“Sometimes we have a slow start. But, for some reason, tonight it all came together. Hard work pays off, I keep telling them. We have to keep doing what we know how to do and they did it. I told them, ‘Execute it and you’ll be OK.’”

Freshman Aniah Patterson tallied a game-high 16 points for St. Thomas More while Pool and DahNaija Barnes added nine points apiece.

St. Thomas More has gotten a spark from Barnes, its newest and probably shortest player. A transfer from Archbishop Carroll (Pa.), Barnes was playing her seventh game with the Ravens on Thursday.

The point guard netted eight of St. Thomas More’s first 19 points and had several steals. She also did a good job dribbling time off the clock in the fourth quarter.

Gordon said Barnes has fit in well, especially after the Ravens lost guard Amaja’ Mack to a season-ending knee injury.

“There was an adjustment period for her,” said Gordon. “But now we’re starting to get some kind of chemistry together.

“She’s a true point guard and she has a little bit of experience. She brings that discipline as well. And she’s little but she has a little chip on her shoulder. It’s good.”

The Senators got a team-high seven points from Xzaviera Robinson. Dover was its own worst enemy at times, missing a number of close-range shots and sinking only 8-of-22 free throws.

“I couldn’t be upset about anything in the third or fourth quarter,” said Byrnes. “We just couldn’t close that gap. … They got us in that first half.

“I feel like if we had played the way we played in the first half the way we played in the second half, it would have been a much closer game.”

Despite having a roster that includes five sophomores and four freshmen, St. Thomas More is headed for the Carpenter Center.

The Ravens’ boys’ squad, coached by Gordon’s brother, Cheston Boyd, will try to join the girls’ squad when it plays at Dover tonight in the second round. Boyd was on the bench helping coach St. Thomas More on Thursday night.

Gordon was happy with the way her young players handled the pressure of a big game.

“They handled it like champs,” she said. “They’re a special group of kids. I feel like they are mature beyond their years. But we still have hurdles to go through. We’re growing.

“We want to prove to everybody that we belong there. We still have a chip on our shoulder. We’re going to use that as positive energy to propel us to wherever we go.”

“We are so excited for that,” Pool said about playing in the quarterfinals. “That was our goal this year, just to make it up there. We can’t wait.

“Now people are going to know our name, for sure.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.