From the Sports Editor: Ravens earning respect in state tournament

St. Thomas More’s Eric Montanez (left) and teammate Corey Gordon try to take a rebound away from Appoquinimink’s Darrell Jenkins in Sunday’s state quarterfinals. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

NEWARK — Everything about St. Thomas More — on paper — says the Ravens shouldn’t be here.

It’s not just that the Catholic school in Magnolia is so small or that its boys’ basketball program has only occasionally produced winning teams.

But this year’s Ravens don’t have much size. And their playing rotation rarely goes beyond seven players.

Yet, here is St. Thomas More, headed to its first Final Four after battling past a bigger, stronger Appoquinimink squad, 48-40, in the state quarterfinals on Sunday.

Senior Corey Gordon said he doesn’t spend much time thinking about the Ravens as some Cinderella squad.

“A little bit but not as much as you probably think I would,” he said. “A little bit. But I feel like we’re supposed to do this.

“We’ve got a lot of heart and everyone here plays to 100 percent. Everybody plays their own part.”

To be fair, St. Thomas More is the tournament’s No. 2 seed, based on the DIAA points system. The Ravens are 19-3 and take a 16-game winning streak into Thursday’s 6:30 p.m. semifinal matchup with No. 19 Caravel at the Carpenter Center.

Of course, St. Thomas More put itself on the map by reaching the state quarterfinals a year ago.

But that team featured two standout players with size in Aaron Scott and Elias Revelle. Both those players, ineligible for different reasons, are relegated to watching from the bench in street clothes.

The Ravens, though, are still making history in one of the state’s most prominent sports.

Many people considered St. Thomas More seeded too high at No. 2 in the tourney. But now the Ravens are the only one of the top four seeds still remaining.

Three years ago, in Gordon’s freshman season, St. Thomas More finished just 4-15.

“I think we’re definitely starting to earn respect from a lot of teams,” he said.

Eagles flying high, too

At the other end of the Final Four spectrum is Smyrna.

A big public school program, the Eagles have plenty of size — not to mention a lot of success in athletics, especially lately.

But this is also Smyrna’s first trip to the state semifinals. And the fifth-seeded Eagles will be no less excited to take to the Carpenter Center floor against No. 9 St. Georges on Thursday at 8 p.m.

Like St. Thomas More, Smyrna lost in the quarterfinals last winter.

“We learned to not back down — to keep the intensity going throughout all four quarters,” sophomore Jaymeir Garnett said after the Eagles downed Woodbridge, 63-51, in their quarterfinal on Sunday.

Smyrna, which is 21-2, has come up with a pretty good formula for winning games. Playing under control most of the time, the Eagles build a solid lead and then keep the ball in Caleb Matthews’ hands down the stretch.

Matthews, Smyrna’s standout junior guard, rarely misses a free throw.

In Sunday’s quarterfinals, the stage didn’t seem to big for the Eagles.

“Once we started to get these pieces to gel together — some of the new guys and the guys returning from last year’s group — all we had to do was just develop a brand,” said coach Andrew Mears. “If, every single night we produce that type of brand, I think we’ll be in a pretty good spot.”

Agony of defeat

There’s a long hallway at the Carpenter Center that runs past the arena’s multiple locker rooms.

On the state basketball quarterfinal weekend, which includes the girls’ games on Saturday and the boys on Sunday, that means there’s 16 different teams coming and going.

Some of those players and coaches have just won the biggest games of their basketball lives.

And some have just lost the most heartbreaking ones.

So while St. Thomas More’s players were all smiles outside their locker room on Sunday, Appoquinmink’s downcast team had to come quietly trudging though.

Then there was Caesar Rodney girls’ coach Bill Victory after his second-seeded Riders fell to St. Elizabeth on Saturday.

The veteran just sat silently outside his team’s locker room with his face in his hands.

“Cinderella woke up and it was 12:02,” Victory said a few minutes earlier. “We’ll play well for a few games and then, all of a sudden, we’ll hit this dead spot where we can’t play dead in a cowboy show. And today was that day.”

Odds & ends

•Isaiah Wilson, who quarterbacked Glasgow High’s football team to a 10-1 record in the fall, is now enrolled at Smyrna.

A first-team All-Blue Hen Flight B selection as a junior, he’ll have one season of eligibility remaining for the two-time Division I state champion Eagles, who graduate All-State QB Nolan Henderson. Wilson is eligible to play right away since he and his parents live in Smyrna.

•The Delaware men’s basketball team finished the season 13-20 under first-year coach Martin Ingelsby after losing in the second round of the CAA tournament on Saturday. That was the most victories for the Blue Hens since winning the league crown in 2014.

•Driver Martin Truex Jr. will be the Team Dover captain for the fifth annual “Dover vs. Pocono Rivalry Day” softball game.

This year’s game is being played on May 3 at Coca-Cola Park, home of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, in Allentown, Pa. Matt Kenseth will captain Team Pocono.

Access to the contest is free with a ticket to the May 3 game between the Lehigh Valley IronPigs and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.

•Milford High grad Alvontae Drummond, a senior on the McDaniel College wrestling team, was named the Centennial Conference Wrestler of the Year.

Drummond won the 141-pound title in the league tournament. He was 22-1 going into the NCAA Division III East Regional, where he finished sixth.

Sports editor Andy Walter
can be reached at 741-8227

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