The stage was set on Saturday afternoon in front of sellout crowd at the University of Delaware’s Bob Carpenter Center for the Polytech Panthers to become the first downstate champion since 1997. However, it was not to be.
Salesianum repeated as state champs, defeating the Panthers 52-45.
Saturday’s first half was widely dominated by Salesianum, who led by just two points after one quarter but upped their lead to ten, 26-16 at the break.
While Polytech was the victim of their own poor shooting in the opening half, they had been here before. The Panthers trailed at the break in all of their previous games during the playoffs and hoped to rebound once again.
The Panthers did their best to keep the trend of strong second-halves going, beginning the second half on a 4-0 run, and cutting the Sallies’ lead to just six before most fans had returned to their seats for the third quarter.
Polytech eventually took a brief lead thanks to a Tim Butler three giving Polytech a 27-26 lead. The Panthers got back into the game, outscoring Salesianum 11-4 in the third, though Sallies would retake the lead by the end of the quarter, 30-27.
In the fourth, Polytech – like many other teams this season – simply couldn’t get a handle on Sallies’ standout Donte DiVincenzo who scored 11 points in the final stanza after being held scoreless in the third. DiVincenzo, finishing with a game-high 23 points, nailed several huge three-pointers down the stretch to help Sallies pull away.
Juwan Gray led the Panthers with 20 points, going 8-13 from the field while grabbing seven boards. Devaughn Mallory contributed 13 points for Polytech, bringing down eight rebounds to pace the Panther effort.
While it’s a hard-breaking end to their high school careers for some on Polytech, Gray spoke about what the experience meant to him and his teammates.
“It’s a moment I’ll remember for the rest of my life, the other players, I love them – the coaches, I love them – the sixth man, I love them,” said Gray. “Getting to the final four and the state championship, it’s been great.”
After the game, Head Coach John Pierce spoke about the hard work his team put in this season and what they’ve meant to the program as a whole.
“(I told them) just to keep their heads up, we worked hard,” said Pierce. “The way I coach it’s about building young men, not just basketball players. That’s what we’ve done this year, they’ve been an example to the underclassmen - I can’t say enough about them.”
Moving forward, this Polytech team won’t soon be forgotten even if they did come up just short of taking the state title. It’s a trend Pierce sees spreading to all of the athletics at Polytech.
“I feel good about what we’re doing. Definitely a great week for the school, a great year for the school,” Pierce said. “Our sports programs are really coming out, I’m really proud of that.”