NEWARK — Conrad’s first quarter was pretty impressive.
But its fourth quarter was even better.
After Caesar Rodney High battled back to take the lead, Conrad held the Riders to just two points in the fourth quarter on its way to a 60-42 victory in the DIAA girls’ basketball quarterfinals on Saturday afternoon at the Carpenter Center.
Conrad (17-6), seeded 18th in the 24-team field, advances to Wednesday’s semifinal, where it will meet third-seeded Sanford (18-4) at 6:30 p.m. at the Carpenter Center. Seventh-seeded Caesar Rodney ended its season at 17-6.
After trailing by as many as 12 points early in the contest, Caesar Rodney took a 40-39 lead late in the third quarter before Conrad ended the game on a 21-2 run.
Conrad was paced by a pair of eighth-graders and a freshman. Eighth-grader Julie Kulesza was the game’s top scorer with 19 points, freshman Jordan Rook netted 15 points and eighth grader Alyssa Faville added 12 points.
Since Conrad’s junior high and high school are located in the same building, its eighth graders are allowed to play with the varsity team.
“Conrad has to be the best 18 seed I’ve ever seen and they’ve got eighth-graders,” said CR coach Bill Victory. “Do you know where my eighth-graders are? They’re playing in junior high school. That’s just another sign that there’s something wrong with this thing. When they’ve got eighth-graders that can play and we can’t do that, that’s a real problem.
“But you can’t take anything away from them. They’re good. They’re really good. We made our run back at them in the third quarter and they answered it. They knew what to do.”
Kulesza sparked Conrad to an 11-0 lead after the first six possessions. She started the game with a three-pointer on her first touch followed by three consecutive layups.
Conrad’s advantage was as large as 16-4 in the first quarter, but the Riders managed to close the gap to 30-23 at halftime. When CR rallied to go on top, Kulesza scored the go-ahead bucket in the final minute of the third quarter.
“I had no idea that kid was that solid,” Victory said. “There’s no weak-link in her game, she’s just so solid. Where you do get kids like that?”
“People didn’t have a lot of confidence in us and we had confidence to go out and be a good team,” Kulesza said. “We all wanted to come back here and play again.”
The Riders scored the first eight points of the third quarter to take their first lead of the game on Jordan Moseley’s putback. They were able to go up 35-32 thanks to Alexis Reid’s layup a few possessions later.
When Conrad scraped back ahead, Alissa Haith nailed a jumper to tie it at 39-39 before she hit a free throw for CR’s final lead of the contest at 40-39.
“In a 24-team tournament everyone is going to lose but one,” Victory said. “It hurts when you do. But I’m proud of the kids. They worked hard and you can’t define your season by the last game, you define it by the work you put in and they worked hard all year.”
Haith, a junior, led Caesar Rodney with 15 points and sophomore Brionna Brooks scored 13. Reid, another sophomore, and Moseley, a senior, netted six points apiece.
The Riders graduate only three seniors and return a majority of their scoring for next season.
“The future is bright,” Victory said. “We’ll reload next year and do what we have to do. We’ll miss our three seniors, but we’ll be OK.”