WOBURN — The Salem girls basketball team knew its season was going to end at some point during the state tournament. Unfortunately it was difficult to see it happen this early on.
An injury plagued bench, including the loss of starting point guard Rachael Zipper, didn’t help the Witches chances against No. 3 seed Arlington Catholic in last night’s Division 2 first round match-up. Though Salem hung around in the first half, the Cougars pulled away with a 59-28 victory.
Arlington Catholic (17-6) will play North Andover in the quarterfinals on Saturday (time and place TBA).
“We played hard, which is number one,” said Salem head coach John Fortunato. “I love this team so much and how hard they’ve played all year long. We never gave up. We’re a young team and we can take this experience and use it even though it’s the end of our season. I’m proud of my team, I’m proud of every single one of them.”
The 14th-seeded Witches were riding a three-game win streak that pushed them into the state tournament field, despite numbers being down on the bench.
Salem (10-11) has been the underdog all season long, but put on an impressive first quarter performance that trickled into the second quarter. Arianna Gaffney hit two-long range three-pointers and the Witches only trailed by four at the end of one, 14-10.
“There was no secret that without Rachael, we had no point guard and it puts a lot of pressure on the other girls,” noted Fortunato. “As the game went out I thought the kids did a better job dealing with that pressure.
“We’re such a young group of girls. When you have a collection of girls with gifts to give, magical things happen when they play together and become much better than anyone individually. We did some pretty special things this year.”