By Jean DePlacido
---- — SALEM — This was not the way Salem State women’s basketball head coach Michelle Cunningham hoped her team would start the new year.
Opening up the MASCAC portion of their schedule, the Lady Vikings fell to Fitchburg State, 77-52, last night at Twohig Gymnasium.
It was a tale of two very different halves. Fitchburg State had a three-point lead (32-29) after the first 20 minutes after the Vikings led most of the half. Both teams got off to a sloppy start with numerous turnovers as the visiting Falcons committed 15 in the half, but cut that number way down to just three after intermission while Salem finished with 27 for the game.
“We were really flat in the second half and Fitchburg got hot,” said Cunningham, whose team (5-8) was playing for the first time after a 10-day layoff. “We had a lot of turnovers; their press flustered us. Fitchburg has a strong defense and they want you to turn it over; we played right into it.”
Things fell apart quickly for the Lady Vikings at the start of the second half. The visitors went on a 5-0 run before Rachel Ledbetter answered for Salem two-and-a-half minutes into the second stanza. Rachael Carter, the only Viking in double figures with 24, scored after a nice pass from Gloucester’s Lara Bruni (ex-of Bishop Fenwick) to cut the deficit to four points.
That was as close as the hosts would come, however, as the Falcons took advantage of careless passes that resulted in turnovers to quickly build up a 10-point cushion. Laura Cote led FSC with a game-high 25 points and five steals while Amy Fahey chipped in with 10 points and four steals.
“This is a great way to get started in the conference,” said Falcons’ (5-5) first-year coach David Bostick. “Our pressure defense helped a lot because it caused so many turnovers, and we were able to turn a lot of them into baskets.
“The girls were nervous coming out tonight because so much is new for them. Having me as their coach and learning my system is challenging, but we made some adjustments at the half after seeing what worked. Cote was huge for us. She’s a great shooter, and once she settled down and didn’t rush her jump shot it made a big difference.”
Carter had a team-high nine rebounds for the Vikings and also had four steals in 33 minutes. Bruni (8 rebounds) and Ginny Fleming from Peabody (7) also hit the boards hard, but dismal shooting — 23.3 percent in the second half and only 25.4 percent for the game — did the Lady Vikings in. The Vikings tried to get back in the game with three-point shots, but made only 2 of 17.
“Bostick had his girls hungry and ready for us,” said Cunningham. “We gave up a lot of rebounds on the offensive end, and, with the exception of Carter, our shots weren’t falling. This just wasn’t our night, but we’re a better team than what we showed.”