For the second straight year, the Polytech High School boys basketball team will have a chance to claim the Henlopen Conference Championship. Last year, the Panthers fell to Dover. This year, they're hoping to take down Smyrna.


Heading into its second straight Henlopen Conference Championship game Saturday, Feb. 26, the situation is eerily familiar for the Polytech High School boys basketball program.

Just a year ago, the Panthers (17-3, 15-1) fell to Dover High School in their second-to-last regular season game, only to drop the conference title game a few days later to that same team.

Just last week on Feb. 24, Head Coach John Pierce’s team lost to Smyrna High School, 46-41, and is set to square off with that same squad in the conference championship, hosted by Caesar Rodney High School.

Even though the Eagles (15-5, 14-3) got the best of his team in the first game, Pierce said he thinks his squad can go off the script from a year ago and walk away after Saturday’s game as the Henlopen’s best team.

“I can’t say we weren’t playing hard, because we were … but we just didn’t finish the game like we were supposed to,” he said. “Smyrna is a good team, but we didn’t play well at the end of the game.”

Instead of sulking over the regular-season-finale loss, the Panthers are accentuating the positives heading into the championship game, using the defeat as a learning experience.

Polytech has been stellar following losses this year, winning seven and six straight games after each of its two previous losses.

“I’m glad we got the loss now instead of in the state tournament,” Pierce said. “Our guys, we know what we’ve got to do, we know what we’ve got to build on. So we’re looking forward to playing them on Saturday.”

Junior guard Justin Braddy agreed with his coach that if the team was going to lose again this season, the Smyrna game was the best possible time to do that.

Moving forward, Braddy said he and his teammates have just been hammering home the point that any loss moving forward would be much more severe.

“From now on we just don’t want to lose, because any loss could just be devastating,” he said. “We just have to keep on rolling, work out all the things we need to work out, and keep the season going as long as possible so we can get to the Bob and get that title.”

The crowd at the Henlopen championships is set to be a rowdy one, and with the Smyrna girls facing off against Indian River High School prior to the boys game, it’s no secret that support may be tilted toward the Eagles.

Luckily for the Panthers, senior co-captain Greg Smith said, they’ve had plenty of practice playing in overly emotional environments this year.

Smith cited games against Dover High School and Red Lion Christian Academy earlier this season, and said his team knows how to handle raucous crowds based on those.

“Emotions can definitely affect the way you play,” he said. “But we can usually pick it up within the first couple of minutes if that’s the case and can get our focus back on shortly after the beginning of the game.”

Beyond getting a little revenge against Smyrna in the game, the Panthers have the chance to put themselves in a better seed when the state tournament begins next week.

“It’s a game-at-a-time approach, but we’ve always been talking about putting ourselves in a better position in the tournament,” Pierce said. “There’s a lot of distractions that come along with winning, but we’ve always got to stay level-headed and in tune with what the team needs to be doing.”

IF YOU GO
WHAT Henlopen Conference Boys and Girls Basketball Championships
WHO Smyrna High School vs. Indian River High School girls; Smyrna High School vs. Polytech High School boys
WHEN Girls play at 5:30 p.m., boys follow Saturday, Feb. 26
WHERE Caesar Rodney High School, 239 Old North Road, Camden
COST $7 for both games

Email Brian Citino at brian.citino@doverpost.com