Ravens’ coach: ‘We will be back’

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St. Thomas Moor coaches go over strategy with players during timeout late in the 4th quarter in Sunday’s loss to St. Georges. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

NEWARK — Like every other coach who loses a state tournament game, Cheston Boyd had to give his St. Thomas More boys’ basketball players one more speech on Sunday afternoon.

But Boyd didn’t feel like he was saying goodbye to his team.

“We’re not going anywhere,” he said as he stood outside the Ravens’ Carpenter Center locker room. “That’s what I just told the guys, this isn’t any speech about ‘It’s been great playing with you.’

“It’s a speech about, ‘OK, let’s get everybody healthy and let’s get back after the off-season.’ We’ll be back again. We’ll be back.”

Of course, that remains to be seen.

But what happens next for St. Thomas More’s upstart basketball programs — both its boys’ and girls’ teams — is as big as any question for downstate hoops coming out of this season.

Both Ravens squads came seemingly out of nowhere to reach the DIAA state quarterfinals this season.

St. Thomas More’s girls lost to Concord, 60-47, on Saturday before the Raven boys fell to St. Georges, 45-39, on Sunday.

Both squads were hurt by a lack of depth down the stretch — which isn’t entirely surprising for teams representing a school with just 170 students.

On the other hand, the two programs combined had just one senior on their rosters.

So can the Ravens actually sustain this level of success? Can they go even further in the state tournament?

“From here, all we can do is get better,” said Boyd, whose team finished 17-6. “Now we know what playoff basketball is. It’s physical, it’s fun. It’s fast. We’ll have a leg up next time.”

St. Thomas More girls’ coach Crystal Gordon and Boyd — her brother — both ended up as the Ravens’ head coaches almost by accident.

But Gordon, whose team went 17-3, said the two Dover High grads are determined to build something at the small Catholic school in Magnolia.

While New Castle County has Sanford, downstate Delaware hasn’t had something like this — a small, private school that finds a way to build a basketball program that competes against the state’s best.

“I think it’s more for the kids here — so the kids downstate, as well, can have more exposure,” Gordon said last week. “These are some good kids and they’re working really hard. To me, that’s what it’s all about. I want them to have an opportunity.

“Ches and I approach it from not only an athletic standpoint but from an educational standpoint — for kids to have the proper education to go to four-year colleges and also get some attention. If you look at the stats down here, it hasn’t been as great below the canal, but we want that to be better.”

Smyrna on the rise

Andrew Mears has been the head basketball coach at Smyrna High for the last two seasons.

And both of those have ended with a trip to the quarterfinals.

It’s been a steady turnaround for the Eagles who before last year had last won a tournament game in 2012. This current group of seniors missed the tournament as freshmen and sophomores with records of 6-14 and 8-12 in 2013 and 2014.

Smyrna won a total of 18 games this year despite Sunday’s loss to Mount Pleasant in the quarterfinals.

“I’m very impressed with what we were able to do this year,” Mears said. “Our guys bought in and had a common goal. We achieved some of those goals and obviously we’d like to continue to play basketball this year but it came to an end.”

While the Eagles do lose six seniors they do return two members of their starting lineup, sophomore Caleb Matthews and freshman Jaymeir Garnett for next season.

Tough ending for Dover

Dover High’s boys’ team had hoped to make a run in the state tournament.

But the third-seeded Senators’ season came to abrupt end when they fell to St. Thomas More, 59-55, in the tourney’s second round on Friday night.

Henlopen Conference champion Dover went 17-4, winning 14 games in a row before the tourney loss. The Senators’ only three in-state setbacks came against teams that are in the semifinals (Sanford, St. Georges) and the Ravens, who made the quarterfinals.

Coach Stephen Wilson talked for a while with his six seniors after the loss.

“We’ll be able to look back and say we did some good things,” he said. “We won the division, we won the conference, we had a 14-game winning streak. … I think with this group, we could have been able to get there (to the state finals) but we just didn’t get over the hump.”

Notes

•With no downstate teams reaching the semifinals, the 1997 Seaford squad will remain the last Henlopen Conference boys’ team to win the state title for at least another year. The 2003 Polytech squad is the last downstate girls’ program to win the crown.

•Sunday’s four boys’ quarterfinal games drew a combined sellout crowd of 4,877. Saturday’s girls’ quarterfinals drew a crowd of 2,346 to the Carpenter Center.

•One of the highlights of St. Thomas More’s girls’ game on Saturday came when guard DahNaija Barnes calmly lined up a shot and buried a high-arcing three-pointer from far beyond the top of the three-point circle. The basket gave the Ravens a 30-29 third-quarter lead.

 

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at tmastro@newszap.com

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