By Dan Harrison
---- — SALEM — For the first time in recent history, the Salem High basketball team has some size with forwards Rashad Keys and David Kazadi.
In last night’s season opening, 66-62 win over Beverly, the Witches found out that Keys and Kazadi aren’t the only ones capable of playing big.
Guards Shaky White (12 points), Michael Sanchez (11 points) and Jamie Dominguez (eight points) were outstanding throughout the second half as Salem came back from an eight-point deficit to begin the third quarter.
Keys (17 points), Kazadi (nine points) and Kelven Perpetuo also helped thwart the Panther comeback in the fourth quarter.
“The intensity of the whole team picked up and we played harder in the second half. We really stepped up and made less mistakes,” said Witches (1-0) head coach Tom Doyle. “Everyone who played scored.”
Behind a 13-point, first half performance by Nick Cross and 10 points from Jon Berchoff, the Panthers (0-1) led by as many as 14 points in the second quarter. Salem’s offense looked out of sync, with Beverly guard Chris Sinclair hounding the Witches guards into bad turnovers and sloppy play that led to points on the break for the visitors.
But Salem came out in the third quarter and really shared the basketball. Six different guys scored buckets before the Beverly eight point lead turned into a Salem 43-40 advantage.
“I wish I knew what happened,” said Beverly (0-1) head coach Scott Lewis. “We got decent looks going to the basket. We took some quick three’s that didn’t drop. Our guys didn’t respond when they made their run and the home crowd got into it.”
Cross finished with 20 points but was limited in the second half by the defense of Sanchez, who battled tough in the paint despite giving up some inches to the Beverly forward. Cross’ eye was nearly swollen shut after a second quarter collision with Keys but he changed his bloody jersey and, in the fourth quarter, hit a big and-1 three-pointer in the final minute that kept the Panthers hanging around.
Still, until the final minute and a half, Cross had just a pair of free throws in the second half including a scoreless third quarter thanks to the defense played by Sanchez. The junior guard fed off his own defensive play and picked up his game offensively, scoring 10 points in the second half.
“Sanchez gave us a lift defensively,” noted Doyle. “Cross scored 20 points but he really had to work for those 20 points. He (Sanchez) really did a great job.”
Keys was the big contributor in the opening quarter hitting jumper after jumper from just inside the baseline. He and Kazadi had a pair of blocks each in the opening eight minutes as Salem’s 3-2 zone was relatively effective until Beverly and Cross caught fire in the second quarter forcing the Witches to switch out of it.
“He (Keys) gives us a presence. This is the first time we’ve had some height,” said Doyle, who talked about the zone. “We haven’t worked at it enough. It’s something we believe in but it wasn’t working so we tried something else.”
The hosts didn’t shoot nearly as many three-pointers as Salem teams of recent years but White knocked down a trio of trifectas including one from the corner midway through the fourth quarter to put the Witches ahead by four points.
Then, he made a great pass inside to Kazadi for two points to put Salem ahead seven with a little over a minute to play.
“He’s a gamer,” Doyle said of White. “He stepped up huge for us last year off the bench. Now, he wants that big shot in the big moment. I know he’s going to give me everything he’s got.”