WILMINGTON – Nine years ago, 6-foot-5 Elena Delle Donne led the Ursuline basketball team to the national bracket championship at the Diamond State Classic.
The Raiders didn’t have anyone within five inches of that height Friday, but they all stood tall.
Alisha Lewis fed Olivia Mason for a huge bucket with 20 seconds left, and Ursuline scored the final six points to edge away for a 47-40 victory over Roland Park Country School of Baltimore in the championship game of the Saint Francis Healthcare Cup – DSC’s eight-team top bracket – at the St. E Center.
The Raiders became the first Delaware team to win it since Delle Donne, now a WNBA MVP and Olympic gold medalist keyed their sweep in 2007. St. Elizabeth came close in 2013, falling to McDonogh School (Md.) in the final.
Ursuline has been in the national bracket every year, chasing another title. The Raiders (6-1), the defending DIAA champions and currently the state’s top-ranked team, got it done behind 14 points from Maggie Connolly, 11 from Mason and nine from bracket MVP Lewis.
“We’ve been here. We’ve been 0-3, we’ve been 1-2, we’ve been 2-1, but we’ve never been 3-0,” Ursuline coach John Noonan said. “The competition was phenomenal, very tough. I’m just really proud of our kids.”
Roland Park (8-2) had only lost to Paul VI Catholic of Fairfax, Va., the nation’s top-ranked team. The Reds got off to a flying start, as Jeydah Johnson splashed a 3-pointer and Aniyah Carpenter drove the baseline for a 5-0 lead.
But Ursuline quickly found its stride, as Kryshell Gordy drove for a score, Connolly scored on an inbounds play and Lewis hit a free throw for an 11-9 lead after one quarter.
It was nip and tuck all the way, with four lead changes and four ties through the second and third quarters. Yanni Hendley-McCalla drove for the first score of the final period to put the Raiders up 35-32.
Johnson, who led the Reds with 15 points, missed eight 3-point attempts in a row in the first half. But the LIU-Brooklyn signee heated up when it counted most, dropping back-to-back 3s to pull Roland Park within 39-38 with 1:38 to play.
The Raiders were clinging to a 41-40 lead in the final minute and appeared to be running the clock down awaiting a Roland Park foul when Lewis unexpectedly drove into the lane and dished to Mason for a giant layup and a three-point lead with 20 seconds to go.
“She makes a one-handed bounce pass. Oh man, what do you say?” Noonan said. “People are yelling at me, ‘Take a timeout!’ It was crazy. But I’m a believer in let the kids play. I believe in them. They’ve proven it time and time again.
“I don’t want them overthinking. You see somebody open, give it to them. You catch it, finish it.”
Lewis followed Noonan’s aggressive approach to perfection.
“That play was amazing,” she said. “… I wanted to score it, keep going, and then she made the layup and that kept us up for the rest of the game.”
Mason, who scored all of her points in the second half, took Lewis’ pass in stride and converted.
“Alisha had a great drive, and then I was just in the right spot at the right time and I finished it,” she said.
Trailing 43-40, the Reds were trying to free Johnson for a potential tying 3-point attempt when they were whistled for a moving screen with 9.3 seconds left. Roland Park coach Scott Buckley ran onto the court to object and, after being given an opportunity to back off by a second official, ultimately was given a technical foul.
Connolly, who has repeatedly made big late-game foul shots the last two seasons, dropped two more. Then she did it again after a Reds foul with 6.3 seconds remaining to put it away.
“I get nervous, so I don’t know how it keeps going in,” Connolly said. “My teammates are always backing me, so it’s a confidence booster.”
The Raiders won three games in four days, downing Redondo Union (Calif.) 39-26 on Tuesday and holding off St. Rose (N.J.) – ranked 11th nationally by maxpreps.com – 54-51 in the semifinals on Thursday. When Friday’s game was finished, Lewis recapped the week perfectly.
“It’s crazy special,” she said.
Contact Brad Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ