By Jean DePlacido
---- — SALEM — Neither team has a winning record, but that didn’t stop the Salem and Beverly High girls basketball teams from going all out in search of a victory last night.
Host Salem built up a big lead and had to withstand a furious rally by the Panthers to pull out a 38-37 triumph.
Things didn’t look too promising for the Witches when two starters, Brianna Rodriguez (6 points) and Jaclyn Panneton (8) fouled out late in the game. But junior captain Rachael Zipper stepped to the foul line with her team trailing by a point and seconds remaining and made both shots.
“This is a big win for us; I couldn’t be more proud of the girls,” said Salem (5-9) coach John Fortunato. “At the end we had two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior on the court and somehow we found a way to win. Rachael stepped up like a true captain to make those shots.”
Beverly (5-8) had trailed for most of the game after a dismal opening quarter when the Witches outscored them, 13-1. But the Panthers chipped away and cut the deficit to eight at the half.
At the start of the final quarter Salem’s lead was down to six as Beverly ran off 12 unanswered points starting in the final minute of the third quarter when Bridget Keaton (a game-high 11 points) hit two consecutive baskets.
Natalie Mellinger made one from the charity stripe to tie it up, and the Panthers took their first lead on a basket by Keaton with 4:38 remaining.
“We came back strong after that awful first quarter,” said Beverly first-year head coach Allison Flynn, who played for Salem High. “That start killed us; we weren’t shooting well outside but kept taking those shots. We committed too many fouls and were in foul trouble after the first quarter. They made their shots from the line and we missed a lot. It’s a very tough loss for us.”
Rodriguez fouled out with 5:38 remaining, and Panneton picked up her fifth in the final minute. Beverly went to the line 19 times but made only eight while Salem was 13-for-22.
Panneton had a huge game for the Witches on the boards and was especially dominant in the defensive end.
Maritza Scott (10 points) tied the game at 33-all before Panneton made two from the line to give the hosts the lead. It didn’t last as Ashley Keaton made a pair of foul shots for Beverly to tie it up again, and Mellinger’s basket put the Panthers back on top before Zipper stepped to the line to win it.
“Beverly is our big rival and this is such a great win for us,” said Panneton. “Every game this season has been tough, but we’ve fought back. It feels good that we were able to pull it out.”
The loss may have been very costly for the Panthers. MaryCate Flaherty was injured in the final seconds, and Flynn believes she may have suffered a concussion. Flaherty is a true leader on the court and does all the little things.
“She had a great game; (her injury is) unfortunate,” said Flynn. “Bridget Keaton also played well, and Olivia George did an outstanding job against their number 44 (Panneton). “She’s very tough to defend.”