Smyrna boys end drought, CR girls triumph in Henlopen hoop title games

Photos special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder

LEWES — Smyrna High’s boys’ basketball players had seen the banner in their gym.

They knew the last time the Eagles won a Henlopen Conference title on the court was in 1985.

They thought it was about time to change that.

While it wasn’t easy, Northern Division champion Smyrna outlasted South winner Woodbridge, 61-51, to reclaim the Henlopen crown before a big crowd at Cape Henlopen on Friday night.

In the girls’ title game that started the evening, Caesar Rodney rolled to a 76-38 victory over Laurel to capture the program’s sixth Henlopen championship.

For the Eagles (19-2 overall), the victory was their 14th in a row. It capped off a regular season in which Smyrna finished 12-0 in the North.

Technically, the Eagles also won the conference crown in 2007 when they lost to Cape but the Vikings later had to forfeit the win due to an ineligible player. But, as far as Smyrna’s current players were concerned, this title was a long time in the making.

“It was over 30 years,” said sophomore Jaymeir Garnett. “We came here and accomplished what we had to do — we got the conference championship.”

“This team knows how good they are so it’s nice to see them get rewarded with some success,” said Smyrna coach Andrew Mears. “But, ultimately, this isn’t our highest goal. We’re going to get back to work next week and really give it a run.”

Woodbridge (18-3), which had an eight-game winning streak snapped, was at a considerable height disadvantage against the Eagles and their seven-foot center, Azubuike Nwankwo. But the Raiders hung in for most of the night.

Woodbridge led 31-29 with 5:37 remaining in the third quarter and still trailed by only six points with 48 seconds remaining in the contest.

Smyrna, however, never let the Raiders get closer thanks to Caleb Matthews’ clutch free-throw shooting. The junior guard finished with a game-high 20 points after going a remarkable 18-for-18 from the foul line.

Matthews hit six of his attempts in the final 45 seconds to put away the victory.

“That’s who he is for us,” said Mears. “That’s what separates some of those good players from the top-tier players. It’s just their ability to finish when the game is in their hands.”

Four Eagles scored in double figures: Matthews (20), Nwankwo (13), Garnett (12) and Anthony Watson (10), who sank a couple big three-pointers in the second half.

Woodbridge got 15 points apiece from Te’Vion Waters and Cornell Corbin with Hassan Corbin adding 13. Waters hit three of the Raiders’ seven three-pointers in the game.

The interesting thing about Friday’s contest was that both teams knew, going into the game, that they might not have to wait long for a rematch.

In the DIAA state tournament pairings that came out earlier in the day, Woodbridge was seeded fourth while Smyrna was seeded fifth. That means if both squads win their second-round home games on Friday, they’ll meet in the state quarterfinals next Sunday in the Carpenter Center.

“That was completely separate from out focus,” said Mears. “Tonight we just wanted to finish our job in the conference. We didn’t hint to it at all.

“I’m sure all the guys saw the bracket but we just pressed pause on that. Win or lose (on Friday), we were just going to turn the page and start our run in the tournament.”

“We love that possibility,” said the Raiders’ Julius Cannon, who was named the Henlopen Coach of the Year. “We’d love the opportunity.

“We know going into every game that our size is an issue. We’re probably the smallest team, whoever we play. I’m proud of how we worked throughout the season. We need that home game (in the state tournament) so I’m glad we got it.”

GIRLS, Caesar Rodney 76, Laurel 38: The Riders took control from the start, storming out to a 29-7 lead by the end of the first quarter.

CR (20-1) was up 42-22 at halftime and 69-30 going into the fourth quarter.

Ironically, the Riders’ only loss of the regular season came on this floor, against Cape Henlopen on Jan. 27.

“Coach Vic always said we’re coming back to the scene of the crime,” said junior guard Alexis Reid. “So to come out and play like we just did and win like we just did, it feels good.

“It definitely gives us a boost of momentum to go into the (state) tournament. We know what we’re capable of.”

“We got off to a great start so I was pretty happy about that,” said coach Bill Victory, who was named the girls’ Coach of the Year for the conference.

Sophomore Kylie Kornegay-Lucas poured in 26 points to lead CR which also got 15 points from Reid and 14 from Brionna Brooks.

Logan Handy finished with a game-high 28 of the Bulldogs’ 38 points.

Both teams now head to the state tournament, which begins on Tuesday.

As the No. 2 seed, the Riders can avoid facing some of the top teams — No. 1 Ursuline, No. 4 Sanford and No. 5 Conrad — until the state finals.

That fact wasn’t lost on Victory.

“It was like Christmas in February,” he said with a smile. “The bracket smells good right now, we’ve just got to take care of business.”

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