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Spartans bounce back to take Diamond State Classic opener


Dialog reporter


WILMINGTON – Kaitlyn Wolff took her spot at the foul line, her St. Mark’s team trailing Howard by a point with 30.9 seconds remaining. She coolly knocked down a pair of free throws, and the Spartans managed a 47-46 comeback win Saturday morning at the St. E Center. The game was the opener of the 24th annual Diamond State Classic, which benefits area charities.

Wolff scored 18 points to lead St. Mark’s, which won its fifth straight and improved to 5-1. She scored eight of those in the final quarter, including a perfect six-for-six from the free-throw line, as St. Mark’s erased a four-point deficit it faced after three quarters.

Ann White of St. Mark's (left) battles Howard's Ronnay Blanch-Huggins during their game Saturday at the Diamond State Classic. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)
Ann White of St. Mark’s (left) battles Howard’s Ronnay Blanch-Huggins during their game Saturday at the Diamond State Classic. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)

“It was nerve-racking, but I just figured I had to do it for the team,” the junior said. “They just kept telling me to drive, drive. That’s how we’re going to get the points. So I just did what they said.”

Senior Ann White got the Spartans going early with a long two-point field goal, and all five starters scored in the stanza as they held a 14-8 lead after one. Howard gave St. Mark’s plenty of opportunities to stretch the lead with a number of turnovers, but the Spartans struggled to convert. Their shooting woes continued into the second, while the Lady Wildcats fought back to tie the game at 16 midway through the period. St. Mark’s regained the lead when Alyssa Simmons rebounded a missed free throw by Wolff and knocked down a short jumper, but the teams stayed close.

Howard took its first lead with a minute to go before halftime on a similar play. Nyasia Gaines missed a free throw, but Deychaun Madric grabbed the rebound and scored on the putback. Howard took the 22-21 lead into the break.

The Lady Wildcats extended the lead in the third behind the play of sophomore Ronnay Blanch-Huggins, a 5-8 forward who was a presence inside the entire game. Blanch-Huggins scored eight of her team-high 18 points in the third. St. Mark’s stayed within striking distance thanks in large part to foul shots, as the Spartans made six of nine attempts. White’s two buckets were the team’s only points from the field in the quarter.

While Wolff was perfect from the line in the fourth, Howard struggled mightily in what likely made the difference. The Lady Wildcats converted just one of five attempts and just three of 10 for the game.

White joined Wolff in double figures with 10 points. The Spartans return to action at the Classic on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. when they play Council Rock South (Pa.) for the championship of the New Castle Insurance Cup. Council Rock South defeated Delaware Military Academy this afternoon.

Blanch-Huggins was the only Lady Wildcat in double figures, although all nine players who appeared scored. Dayshanay Brown had seven. Howard, which lost its first game after opening the season with three consecutive wins, will meet DMA in the New Castle Insurance Cup third-place game Sunday at 10:45 a.m.

The tournament, which goes through Tuesday, features six games on Sunday. After the Howard-DMA contest, Padua takes on Harriton (Pa.) at 12:30 p.m. in the Delaware Cup. Concord will meet Trinity (Pa.) at 2:15 p.m. in the Delaware Cup. St. Mark’s and Council Rock South follow at 4, followed by Sussex Central and Seton Keough (Md.) at 5:45 and Sanford vs. Monsignor Scanlan (N.Y.) at 7:30. Those last two games are in the First State Orthopaedics Cup.