Tatnall eliminates Rider girls 63-35 in state tourney second round

Caesar Rodney’s Jada McCullough shoots against Tatnall in the second quarter at CR. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

CAMDEN — If Caesar Rodney High’s two girls’ basketball seniors wanted to pack it in, last year was their chance.

But Haley Hansen and Lillian Ayers hung in through the Riders’ tough 6-14 campaign a year ago.

Their reward was helping CR get back on track and return to the DIAA state tournament this winter.

Unfortunately, the No. 7 Riders’ bounce-back season ended with a 63-35 loss to 10th-seeded Tatnall in the tourney’s second round on Friday night.

The Hornets (16-6), who have won six of their last seven games, earn a state quarterfinal date at No. 2 Cape Henlopen on Monday night.

Tatnall used its height advantage to build a 30-18 halftime advantage before finishing off CR (15-6) in the second half. Still, the Riders posted nine more victories than they did a year ago.

“I think we definitely came a long way from where we were,” said Hansen, who netted a team-high 13 points. “I think we made a lot of growth.

“Me and Lil, we wanted to end it the right way. There were some games that were rough. There were trials and tribulations. But, back and forth, we both had to keep each other grounded and remember this is it for us.”

“I told both my seniors, ‘You had every reason, coming from a team with only six wins, to cash it in and go play something else — checkers, chess or whatever,’” joked second-year head coach Tameka Williams. “But they both gave me their guts from start to finish. I couldn’t ask for better kids.”

Caesar Rodney’s Haley Hansen shoots for a two-pointer against Tatnall defenders in the first quarter at CR.

CR did get off to a good start on Friday when Hansen sank a jumper off the opening tap. The Riders led 4-0 early and trailed only 15-13 at the end of the first quarter.

But the contest got away from CR from there. The Riders netted a total of just 11 points in the second and third quarters as Tatnall took a 48-24 lead into the fourth quarter.

The Hornets’ size advantage seemed to eventually take its toll on CR.

“They executed really well and their size gave us a little bit of trouble,” said Williams. “Second shots really hurt us. By us giving up second shots, it put them on the free-throw line and slowed the game down. We knew to keep things interesting, we had to get out on the break and if you don’t get that initial rebound and get it going, it makes it a little hard.”

“They definitely had a lot of size,” said Hansen.

The Riders’ Alexia Jordan battles under the basket against Tatnall’s Breionna Dodson in the second quarter.

Tatnall went 17-of-23 from the foul line compared to just 4-of-14 free-throw shooting for CR. Sophie Kirby (15 points), Breionna Dixon (14) and Emma Kirby (14) all scored in double figures for the Hornets.

With just two seniors on the roster, Williams hopes the Riders can build off this season next year.

“We have some young kids who have been playing hard and practicing hard,” she said. “We’ll go back to the drawing board and be working hard all summer like we normally do.”

Of course, for Hansen and Ayers, this is where their high school basketball careers end. Ayers added eight points in her finale.
Hansen said at least they got to finish up on the court, playing in the state tournament.

“It really hasn’t kicked in yet,” she said. “I know Lil is heartbroken about it. But, at the end of the game, we just looked at each other. We were getting ready to sit on the bench but we we told Coach we were going to play our last few seconds. We’re ending it the right way.”