WILMINGTON – Coaches Dan Cooney of St. Elizabeth High and Daniel Pisani of Archmere Academy had the same reaction when they saw the DIAA Girls Basketball Tournament bracket. It was drawn from first-hand experience.
The Vikings and Auks had waged a fierce regular-season contest in which St. Elizabeth prevailed. Both expected an identically competitive match-up.
That’s what they got at the St. E Center on Thursday night, where the hosts scored the last 11 points over the final 2:45 for a 49-42 round-of 16 win.
When Alexis Lee scored on a fast-break layup off one of Archmere’s 21 turnovers to make it 44-42 with 2:06 left, it was the seventh and final lead change.
No. 7-seeded St. Elizabeth (14-7) did the rest of its work at the foul line and moved on to play No. 2 Caesar Rodney (20-1) in Saturday’s 3:30 quarterfinal game at the Carpenter Center. St. E lost 50-48 in its season opener at CR.
The Vikings had beaten Archmere in identical fashion, with an 11-0 finishing run, to win 45-41 in the Auks’ gym Feb. 4.
“It was a carbon copy,” Cooney said. “It’s been like that the last few years. I’ve got so much respect for Danny and what he does at Archmere with those kids. That’s a good group and it’s a group that always battles us and we struggle with . . . The kids for the last week and a half worked extremely hard in practice and knew it was going to be like this and refused to let what happen to us last year happen this year, especially all the seniors.”
Last year in this same round, St. Elizabeth, then seeded No. 2, was stunned 57-55 by 18th-seeded Conrad.
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Senior Alanna Speaks scored 11 points, including four closing free throws, to lead a balanced St. E effort. Lee and senior Alexis Bromwell added 10 points each.
“I knew it was going to be a tough game,” Speaks said. “ . . . We wanted to play like a team because we didn’t want it to end like last year when we lost. We wanted to keep moving forward. Last year motivated us because we knew we weren’t supposed to lose to Conrad but we took them for granted and this year we knew we can’t take a team for granted.”
No. 10 Archmere (15-7) led 15-12 after the first quarter and then saw its margin grow to 20-14. But St. E outscored Archmere 10-0 over the final 4:37 of the second quarter, the Vikings’ press often forcing turnovers, to make it 24-20 at halftime.
The Vikings’ lead was 36-34 entering the final quarter but Archmere went ahead 40-38 on Amanda Denning’s two free throws with 4:42 left and 42-38 after Maggie Malloy’s baseline drive with 4:06 to go.
Senior guard Danaziah Brown scored a game-high 12 points for the Auks while Denning, a junior, and sophomore Emma McCann supplied 10 each.
“I just told our girls in the locker room, I think in the two years I’ve been here that might have been the best basketball they played,” Pisani said. “ . . . They never, ever quit. A couple tough shots that just didn’t fall, a couple good bounces they got on some of their shots and the game looks a different way.”
But St. E, with its five state championship banners hanging on the wall, was as tough as expected.
“They’re athletic and they’re big and they’re fast,” Pisani said. “They do a nice job.”
Contact Kevin Tresolini at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @kevintresolini.