St. Thomas More earns respect in girls’ basketball

Jessica Simmons of St. Thomas More. Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

MAGNOLIA — It clearly wasn’t the way they wanted to start the season.

St. Thomas More’s girls’ basketball players couldn’t hold a four-point halftime lead against Hodgson, falling to the Silver Eagles, 42-38, in its opener on Dec. 7.

That marked the third-straight time the Ravens lost to Hodgson.

But St. Thomas More didn’t have to wait long to get a second chance at the Silver Eagles.

The Ravens faced Hodgson again, this time in their bracket finals of Lake Forest’s Pat Borowski Tournament on Dec. 28. St. Thomas More got its revenge, downing the Silver Eagles, 51-39.

“I think it just showed that we grow quickly,” said Ravens’ junior Aniah Patterson. “We had to come together and I think we definitely did it. I think we had so much more energy than the first time.

“When we won, and we had that trophy, in the locker room it was crazy. Everybody was cheering. We just felt so much different.”

St. Thomas More’s players hope they can carry that momentum with them. Weather permitting, they face an even bigger challenge today when they host Caravel today at 4 p.m.

But the Ravens (5-1), who have won five games in a row, are used to challenges.

St. Thomas More’s Aniah Patterson

Despite representing a small school and usually fielding a roster of fewer than 10 players, St. Thomas More has more than held its own lately.

The Ravens are 35-12 over the last two-plus seasons with a trip to the DIAA state semifinals in 2016 and an appearance in the state quarterfinals last winter.

Coach Crystal Gordon said she hasn’t set the bar any lower this season just because St. Thomas More has only eight players in the program.

“I’m a competitor, that’s what I do,” Gordon said with a smile. “I don’t coach unless I try to win and reach for the stars as much as we can.”

Even with a small group, the Ravens have their share of veteran players. Senior DahNaija Barnes, Patterson and Jessica Simmons were all starters last season while senior Sophia Stafford returns to the program after not playing last season.

Gordon said there’s a certain kind of unity that comes from having such a small nucleus of players.

“We’re always a family,” she said. “I believe in that. I believe that out on the floor we have to play together to win.

St. Thomas More girls varsity basketball head coach Crystal Gordon

“We’re working smarter. Our basketball IQ is growing as a team. They’re able to compensate for that (lack of depth). I do have players that actually have a really good foundation of what the game is about. I think maturity is one of the biggest things that contributes to them being able to play smarter.”

Simmons, from Dover, said she thinks beating Hodgson the second time around was a good step forward for the Ravens.

Patterson netted a game-high 21 points in that contest and St. Thomas More outscored the Silver Eagles, 18-6, in the fourth quarter.

“It seemed like a big accomplishment,” Simmons said about the victory. “But we always knew that we could play better after the games that we lost. We finally were able to reach it.

“We were like, ‘Yeah, this is how it’s supposed to be.’ We definitely were excited.”

Given St. Thomas More’s status as an independent, the Ravens’ schedule is fairly uneven. But along with playing some fledgling programs, the Ravens also face schools like Caravel, Hodgson and perennial state power Sanford (on Jan. 15).

Simmons said the Ravens are proud of bringing attention to their small school. They also like earning respect within the state’s basketball community.

“A lot of us know people outside of our school,” said Simmons. “It’s kind of fun seeing your friends and competing against them. Then you see them after school and you talk about it.”

So playing a program like Caravel doesn’t intimidate St. Thomas More’s players said Patterson, a Smyrna native.

“I love that challenge,” she said. “I cannot wait to play Caravel. Right now, we still have that energy from the Hodgson game.”

Hoop notes

Polytech’s 62-43 win over Sussex Central in girls’ basketball on Tuesday night snapped a nine-game losing streak against the Golden Knights. The Panthers’ last victory over Central was on Dec. 30, 2010. … The Dover boys’ basketball team is in the middle of a stretch where it will go 10 games without playing a game. The Senators’ next contest is on Jan. 9 when they host Cape Henlopen. … Dover plays just two of its final 10 games at home. … Lake Forest’s boys face a Henlopen South showdown at Woodbridge next Tuesday. The Blue Raiders have won the last nine meetings in the series with the Spartans’ last victory coming on Jan. 15, 2013.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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