When he emerged from the locker room after his team breezed past Charter in the second round of the DIAA tournament, Cape Henlopen girls’ basketball coach Pat Woods found himself in a strangely dour mood.
“[My wife] was like, ‘You won by 20. Why are you down?’” Woods recalled of the March 6 victory over Charter. “I said, ‘Yeah, but we need to have higher standards for ourselves. We didn’t really play up to our capabilities. It just didn’t come together. It didn’t feel like a big win.”
After Cape’s quarterfinal matchup with Tatnall three nights later, Woods turned his frown upside-down.
Senior forward Abbey Hearn scored 16 of her 24 points in the second half and the ball-hawking Vikings held the Hornets to four field goals as Cape rolled to a 56-21 victory, booking its first semifinal trip since 2011.
“For us, it starts with defense,” Woods said after his Vikings delivered a superlative performance on that end of the floor. “We know that we can lock up and play defense. We’re comfortable with that. If you say, ‘I need you to hit four threes,’ it’s like, ‘I don’t know if they’re gonna go in, but I know I can defend.’ We always say it starts and ends with defense for us, and they were locked in today. They closed out well. They ran the help-side. They executed what we’ve talked about. They were extremely enthusiastic and energetic today, so I was pretty happy.”
Cape jumped out to a 15-2 lead after one quarter, limiting Tatnall to a pair of free throws in the frame. They upped the margin to 27-9 at intermission, by which point the Hornets had managed a single bucket in the run of play. Hearn scored eight first-half points, while sophomore wing Mehkia Applewhite hit a pair of three-pointers on the way to eight of her own.
The Vikings cooled off for most of the third period, missing 13 straight shots during an uncharacteristic 6:45 dry spell. The Hornets closed to within 12 points late in the frame, but Hearn converted a lay-in and a pair of free throws to stop the bleeding. Senior guard Dania Cannon then all but ended things with a buzzer-beating three-pointer that brought the Big House down.
Up 34-15 after three, Cape turned to Hearn to close the game out. She was more than up to the task in the final home game of her career, delivering 12 points and two three-pointers over a sizzling six-minute stretch in the fourth quarter.
“This is great,” said Hearn, who added eight rebounds and three steals. “I love playing here and playing in front of the crowd. They’re awesome and they really support us.”
Hearn gushed about her team’s defensive effort.
“We never wanna give up field goals, and it’s amazing we held them to four,” she said. “We know we can’t play just the last possessions or crunch-time possessions like they’re important. We have to play every possession, and I think we did that tonight. [Tatnall’s] bigs were really talented, so we just wanted to wall up inside.”
Cannon was a force on both ends for the Vikings, finishing with 14 points, eight boards, six assists, and three steals. Applewhite played her typical fast-twitch, hard-nosed game, collecting three steals to go with 10 points, seven rebounds, and three long-balls. The duo made life miserable for Tatnall’s guards and brought the Hornets’ offense to a standstill, deflecting passes all over the place and forcing near-impossible contested shots.
Faced with a frenetic, physical Cape defense, Tatnall never found a rhythm. The Hornets shot a ghastly 11 percent (4 for 36) from the floor, committed 21 turnovers, and failed to score a single point in the paint.
Just like her coach, Cannon was all smiles after the win.
“I’m proud of the team,” she said. “We worked hard. We knew that we were quicker than them, so the goal was to stay in front of them and don’t give them anything easy. I’m ready for [the semifinals]. We’re all ready. We just need to keep playing strong defense and staying together.”
Sophomore forward Morgan Mahoney made her presence felt as well, collecting three points, eight rebounds, three assists, and three blocks. Sophomore guard Lauryn Head came off the bench to drain a three and make two steals, while junior forward Abigal Ikechi-Konkwo closed out the Vikings’ scoring with two points and two boards off the pine.
Cape moves on to the DIAA semifinals, where it will face third-seeded Sanford at 6 p.m., Friday, March 13. Due to coronavirus concerns, the game has been moved from the University of Delaware to Cape Henlopen High School in Lewes.
This story has been updated with new information.