in First Title Game
Publisher, Sussex County Online
Photos (from top): Seaford's Ebony Keaton and Tech's Toni Jones battle for a rebound, Tech's Brittany Atkins drives in for a layup, and Tech's Anika Jones and Seaford's Angie Owens battle for a loose ball while Toni Jones looks on.
NEWARK -- With the pride of Sussex County, the Henlopen Conference and Downstate Delaware swelling the 2003 Delaware High School Girls' Basketball Tournament's semifinals on Wednesday, March 5, the Seaford Blue Jays could have been excused for holding a championship-type celebration after making history with a 45-28 victory over Sussex Tech.
But after the Blue Jays added a new chapter to the program's proud tradition by reaching the state championship game for the first time, and after they became only the third team from Sussex County to ever reach the title game in the tournament's 30-year history, they merely shook hands with the Ravens and headed to their locker room.
"Celebrating (now) isn't going to do anything because we haven't won anything yet," said Seaford senior forward Ebony Keaton after a 13-point, 9-rebound performance. "We don't need to celebrate yet."
That workmanlike demeanor helped the Jays overcome a sub-par shooting night and propel them into the state championship game against third-seeded Polytech on Saturday, March 8, at 7 p.m. at the Carpenter Center. Polytech, the Henlopen Conference champion, defeated No. 5 Sanford 66-47 in the other semifinal Wednesday night.
First, though, the Blue Jays had to defeat Tech for the second time this season. With a 17-game winning streak entering the semifinals and the hot scoring of senior phenom Toni Jones, that proved to be quite a challenge as the Jays fell behind early on before awakening in the second half.
Shooting just 29.8 percent for the game and making only 3 of their 15 three-pointers, the Jays had to turn to other skills to win this one, and rebounding and pressure defense fit the bill.
The Jays, led by Keaton, pounded the offensive glass for 19 offensive rebounds, including 6 by Keaton. In all, they outrebounded the taller Ravens 46-30.
The pressure, meanwhile, led to the game-clinching run in the third quarter.
Up just 19-18 with 7:17 to go in the third period, the Jays went on an 11-0 run as they took advantage of four Tech turnovers to go up 30-18 with 2:14 to go. The pressure also unnerved Tech's offense as the hurried Ravens missed four shots during that span.
With Tech's offense coming unglued, the Blue Jays took the game over, first on layups by Keaton and Ashlee Burbage and then on 7 straight points by reserve center Angie Owens, who scored 7 points in just 8 minutes.
Owens' three-point play, on a layup and foul shot with 2:14 to go, gave Seaford its first double-digit lead of the night at 30-18.
The Ravens would make another run from the third into the fourth periods as Toni Jones and sister Anika Jones sank baskets to make it 30-23 going into the fourth quarter. A layup by Toni Jones brought Tech within 30-25 with 7:53 left in the final period and a foul shot by Jones with 5:12 remaining made it 30-26.
The Jays, however, regained their composure and scored 9 straight points for a 39-26 advantage with 2:38 left in the game.
During that run, Keaton hit a jumper, senior guard Shirelle Tingle buried a three-pointer, Tonya Purnell turned an offensive rebound into a jump shot, and Burbage hit a pair of free throws.
The Ravens made the score 39-28 on a jumper by Myeisha Everette, but that score at 2:19 would account for their final points of the night as the Jays closed the game out on a pair of foul shots and a jumper by Keaton and a layup by Burbage.
Besides Keaton, also in double figures for the Blue Jays was Burbage with 10 points. Burbage also had 11 rebounds, 4 steals and 4 assists.
Toni Jones led the Ravens with 13 points on 6 of 20 shooting. She also collected 10 rebounds.
SUSSEX TECH (28) -- Toni Jones 6-20, 1-2, 13; Myeisha Everette 3-9, 0-0, 6; Brittany Atkins 2-4, 0-4, 4; Melissa Morris 1-2, 0-0, 2; Anika Jones 1-4, 0-0, 2; Monette Malabet 0-1, 0-0, 0; Megan Correll 0-3, 1-2, 1; Amber Henderson 0-0, 0-0, 0; Monique Malabet 0-0, 0-0, 0; Lauryn Correll 0-0, 0-0, 0; Amber Vanderwende 0-0, 0-0, 0. Jaime Townsend 0-1, 0-0, 0. TOTALS 13-44, 2-8, 28.
SEAFORD (45) -- Roniece Williams 2-17, 0-2, 5; Ebony Keaton 5-9, 3-3, 13; Ashlee Burbage 3-8, 4-6, 10; Shirelle Tingle 2-5, 0-0, 5; Chaunta Kilgoe 0-4, 0-2, 0; Curtisha Ross 0-0, 0-0, 0; Tonya Purnell 2-10, 0-0, 5; Angie Owens 3-4, 1-1, 7. TOTALS 17-57, 8-14, 45.
Three-pointers: Seaford 3 (Williams, Tingle, Purnell); Sussex Tech 0.
Rebounds: Seaford 46 (Williams 5, Keaton 9, Burbage 11, Tingle 3, Kilgoe 6, Ross 1, Purnell 6, Owens 1); Sussex Tech 30 (T. Jones 10, Everette 3, Atkins 8, Morris 3, A. Jones 1, Monette Malabet 2, Monique Malabet 1.
Assists: Seaford 8 (Williams 1, Burbage 4, Tingle 1, Kilgoe 1, Purnell 1); Sussex Tech 7 (T. Jones 1, Everette 1, Atkins 1, Morris 2, Monette Malabet 1, Townsend 1).
Blocks: Seaford 1 (Tingle); Sussex Tech 4 (T. Jones 2, Atkins 2).
Steals: Seaford 12 (Williams 2, Keaton 2, Burbage 4, Tingle 3, Purnell 1); Sussex Tech 6 (T. Jones 2, Atkins 1, A. Jones 2, Correll 1).
Seaford head coach Jim Wearden on guard Ashlee Burbage, who had 10 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals:
"That's Ashlee. She does whatever it takes to win a basketball game, whether it's rebounding, stealing the ball, assists, or just scoring. She went out and did her part of the job tonight to win. It's not the Ashlee Burbage team. It's the Seaford Blue Jay team."
Wearden on the Blue Jays' slow start:
"We've been doing that lately though, against St. E's and we started out slow against Caesar Rodney. I think it's just them getting the feel of the game right now. They've been very confident. They've got the senior experience going. I think they try to get the feeling of the game and see what we've got to do. We looked real winded early in the game, too, and once they got through that they played the kind of basketball we wanted them to play."
Wearden on a timeout after Tech cut a double-digit lead to four points in the fourth quarter:
"We got into a tendency of just standing there and watching. We spread it out a little bit and it's not a delay game, it's running an offense. They didn't really come out and play on us, so we could get a breather, but we'd have one person driving and trying to score and four people standing there watching her and I told them we've got to win this with five so we kind of got out of that and just played ball."
Wearden on the key to the victory:
"It's a lot of ... all kind of things. These kids, they want to win it. They've been playing every day of the year since last year, since they lost last year. Last year (reaching the semifinals) helped greatly. We weren't overwhelmed. We walked out on the court and acted like we belonged here."
Wearden on reaching the state finals:
"It's great to be there, but it's not over yet. That's why I called that last timeout. I said, 'Girls, we don't start dancing, we don't start partying yet. We still have one more game to finish out what we came here to do'. Right now we're only the third from our conference to get there. Hopefully we can be the second to win it."
Ashlee Burbage on slowing Tech's high-scoring Toni Jones, who managed only 13 points on 6-for-20 shooting:
"I think we had to share the duty because we have a lot of good defensive players on our team and we knew she was going to try to put everybody on her shoulders and we just had to shut her down. We just had to make sure we knew where she was at all times and of all things, make her go left because she's all right-handed."
Burbage on Seaford's motivation:
"We did not want to go home now. We wanted it for our seniors. We said we've got to come out here and want it more than they did, so we had to come out here and be all over the floor for everything, get all the balls."
Burbage on the pressure defense that gave Seaford its first big lead:
"I think people know our presses so we try to switch it up now and again, but some presses work for us because we have our speed up front and our good defensive player in the back. We didn't want to mess up our press today because the one we were doing was working, so we stuck with it. When we got tired we dropped back into the zone and then got right back in it."
Burbage on the Blue Jays' subdued post-game celebration:
"Right before the game was over he called timeout to tell us we could not celebrate, we didn't have time to celebrate, we've still got one more game left, and after the championship, that's the time that we can. Just for the three Henlopen Conference teams being in it was a good thing, but we didn't want to leave our seniors without a trophy because we couldn't even get the conference. We said we're going to put it all on the line and win."
Seaford forward Ebony Keaton on her 13-point, 9-rebound performance:
"I think the one that got us here was my best game. I just don't want to go home with nothing. We came here last year and we were all scared, I guess of the crowd and stuff, and now everybody knows that we have a good chance of winning. Everybody talks about sacrifice and you've got to hustle. We have to be strong until we win it. Everybody's saying 'Refusal' because we refuse to go home."
Keaton on collecting 6 of the Blue Jays' 9 offensive rebounds:
"Usually it's Ashlee Burbage, but she needs help. She can't do it all."
Keaton on the Blue Jays' attitude towards reaching the finals:
"We're happy, but then again, we're all about respect. We've got respect for a lot of teams. Celebrating isn't going to do anything because we haven't done anything yet. If we win the state championship, we'll be celebrating."
Sussex Tech head coach Wesley Townsend on his team's surprising season:
"We've come a long way. I was telling the girls a while ago, 'Ladies, keep your head up, nobody expected us to get here'. Tonight just wasn't our night. We just didn't play, we didn't play like we were supposed to play. That's what happens when you get to the top almost and you don't play hard, you get bumped off. My seniors, I let them know, God's got a plan for you. It just wasn't in the plan tonight. But it was a learning experience and my kids that ae coming back, it hurt a little bit, but still at the same time, that's what champions are all about. Some people don't get this feeling. We were here. We got this feeling. I'm proud of them."
Townsend on Seaford's press:
"Well, they pressed us pretty hard, but we just weren't patient. We weren't patient tonight. Somehow our girls were a little flat. They (Blue Jays) just played good ball tonight. We usually just break through presses, but we had people who were a little out of psynch tonight. The press didn't really bother us. We just didn't do the things that they were supposed to do to get here."
Townsend on his strategy for dealing with Seaford's three-point shooters, who ended up 3-for-15 from three-point territory:
"We just want to get out there and play our basketball game, our style of game, our style of basketball, just get after you and get after you. I had an old coach who always said, 'You live by the gun and you die by it.' They missed a lot of shots. The first half was 19-16, I told the girls if they were that good shooting the threes, they should be blowing us out of here. We were still in the ballgame, so I wasn't worried about the threes. I was just worried about making sure the girls stayed in front of the baketball. But somehow tonight we just got behind and when you're playing in a championship game, and playing a big game like this, you can't get behind too far."
Townsend on when he knew this year's Ravens were a special group:
"I knew it was a special team when we had maybe two weeks of practice. I saw the girls working together and that's the first time I really can say I can stay over there on the sidelines and I can have these girls run the offense or defense and I could see things happening. It had a click to it, it had a click to it, and I knew right there and then that these girls are special because I never had that before. The rest of the time I had people struggling, guards were struggling, bringing the ball down, shooting wide and stuff like that, but these girls right here, they're special."
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