CAMDEN — Ashley Manifold’s chance to win the game came out of nowhere.
With Dover High’s girls’ basketball team tied with Caesar Rodney, the Riders had just rebounded a missed Senator jumper in the closing seconds.
But as most of the players started running downcourt, CR’s rebounder bobbled the ball in the paint.
Dover’s Manifold reached in, stole the ball and simply banked home the game-winner just before the buzzer to give the Senators a stunning 57-55 Henlopen Conference Northern Division victory over the rival Riders on the first night of the season Friday.
In an emotional scene that felt more like the end of a state tournament game rather than a season opener, Dover’s cheering section roared as Manifold laid in her shot with about two seconds left. A moment later, Senators players, coaches and fans were all hugging each other in front of Dover’s bench.
For the Senators, the heart-pounding win snapped a seven-game losing streak against CR, giving them their first win over the Riders since 2011.
“I knew we had to get points and it was ticking down,” said Manifold, a sophomore. “She lost her dribble a little bit and I just picked it up and went back up. I just knew I had to go to the basket. I was overjoyed. I’m just so happy.”
“That last quarter was definitely playoff material,” said Dover coach Katie Byrnes. “We made a ton of mistakes but to come out with a win just sets the bar. There’s 19 more games.”
In a contest in which the Riders tallied the first seven points, the Senators led by as many as 17 points at 42-25 late in the third quarter.
But then it was CR’s turn to come storming back. Outscoring Dover, 21-12, in the fourth quarter, the Riders tied the game at 55-55 when Alissa Haith sank a pair of free throws with 34.7 seconds remaining.
The Senators brought the ball down and held it before missing a shot with about six seconds left.
CR coach Bill Victory, who has only three seniors on his roster, was proud of his team’s comeback. But he would have rather seen the Riders just hang onto that last rebound and take the game to overtime.
“Right now, we’re just young,” said Victory, whose team went 16-6 and reached the second round of the state tournament last season. “And those first three quarters, we played like we’re young. We climbed back in it. We did what we needed to do.
“But when you play a game like this, it’s like Duke and Kentucky playing. Right now my young kids just need to grow up. Sometimes it hurts.”
Sophomore Brionna Brooks (17 points), Haith (15) and sophomore Alexis Reid (14) sparked CR’s comeback. Brooks made four of the Riders’ five three-pointers in the contest.
Dover, on the other hand, has six players back with starting experience. A year ago, the Senators went 14-7 and made the state tourney for the first time since 2012.
In Friday’s victory, senior Pashence Harris netted a team-high 12 points while Manifold, senior Reeva Jackson and senior Kyra Moore all scored 10.
In a game played before a big crowd, both teams played like it was a season opener. The two squads combined to make just 33-of-71 free throws.
Byrnes, though, hopes the exciting win is just the start of good things to come this winter for the Senators. Dover went just 3-17 two years ago.
“Last year they told me at the beginning of the season they were going to the tournament,” she said about her players. “This year they told me they were going to win the conference. I said, ‘OK, prove me wrong.’ We’ve got a little slogan this year, ‘Believe or leave,’ and they all wear it. It’s working.”
“We finally beat CR,” said Manifold. “We’re ready. We have a lot more confidence this year. We have to keep our composure and definitely make foul shots.”