Sussex Tech opens tournament with 72-36 win over Laurel

GEORGETOWN – Five days after capturing the Henlopen Conference championship, the Sussex Tech girls’ basketball squad opened the DIAA state tournament with a 72-36 first-round win over No. 24 Laurel Wednesday night.

The win sets the No. 9 Lady Ravens up with a second-round match-up at No. 8 Howard Friday night.

Having played Laurel just nine days beforehand, head coach Justin Davis and his Sussex Tech team knew what to expect heading into the first-round showdown.

Junior forward Mi’Cah Shelton drives to the basket in Tech’s first-round tournament win over Laurel (Sussex Post/Ben Heck).

“It’s kind of unusual for us, because we played them nine days ago. A lot of times in the first round, especially in the state tournament, you’ll get somebody you may not know that well,” Davis, the Henlopen Conference Coach of the Year, said. “We got a team we know well – I grew up with Kevin Walmsley, their coach, so I’ve known him for 20+ years. It’s unusual that you get that, but they played well tonight.”

Fresh off the conference championship win Friday, Feb. 23, Davis wanted to be sure the program’s first-ever Henlopen Conference title didn’t distract his players from the upcoming state tournament game.

“It crossed my mind,” he said of a possible post-Henlopen championship let-down. “As a coach, you overthink things anyway, so we had the weekend to celebrate the conference championship at Dover. We got our draw that afternoon, so on the way back from Dover we were already thinking about Laurel. Our girls had a couple good days of practice and they were ready. We only have three seniors, but overall they’re a relatively mature team so they knew what was at stake.”

Junior forward Janiya Stevens put up a game-high 15 points, with another 13 points coming from junior guard Arnaisa Taylor.

“We just focused on running hard during practices, being well-conditioned and making sure we take away No. 22’s right hand and keep her off of that as much as we can,” Stevens said of the team’s preparation for Laurel. “She’s a really good player, so we just tried to slow her down. I think our guard did a really good job doing that.”

Laurel’s No. 22, Logan Handy, was limited to a team-high 13 points, with eight of those points coming in the first half.

“She’s a good player, so it’s kind of hard to get her out of the game,” added senior guard Jayla Mullen. “We did our best at staying on her, denying her the ball and making sure she doesn’t get it as many times as possible. I felt like we did a pretty good job.”

Senior Aliyah Browning (5) battles Laurel’s Daeja Jernigan (23) for position under the basket following a Sussex Tech free throw attempt (Sussex Post/Ben Heck).

A quick 8-0 Tech start forced the Bulldogs to take an early timeout with 4:52 remaining in the opening quarter.

 

A 21-point second quarter, including baskets from six seven different players, gave Tech the 36-17 halftime lead.

The Lady Ravens would match that point total in the second half, including nine points from Taylor and three-point buckets from senior Jayla Mullen (two), junior Mi’Cah Shelton and senior senior Lakendra Harpe.

Tech will turn its attention on No. 8 Howard heading into Friday night’s second-round showdown.

“We have a one-day break, you don’t want to run them especially this late in the season. We’ll try to keep them as fresh as we can, especially with the tempo we play at,” Davis said of his focus heading into Friday. “We’ve got some video, we’ve got some information on Howard. So we’ll be as prepared as we can, we know they’re good.”

Additional first-round action: No. 21 Sussex Central

The No. 21 Lady Golden Knights, facing No. 12 Newark Charter, also pulled off a first-round victory Wednesday, shutting down the Lady Patriots 60-37.

In Friday night’s second round, Central will play at No. 5 St. Thomas More.

Sports Editor Ben Heck can be reached at bheck@newszap.com.

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