The Salem High girls basketball team had its back against the wall seven days ago heading into their game against arch rival Beverly. Needing wins in their final three games to qualify for the state playoffs, things didn’t look good for the Witches.
But Salem made it happen, beating the Panthers as well as non-league foes Everett and Malden -- all within a span of six days -- to finish the regular season 10-10 and earn themselves a playoff bid.
Now in the postseason for the third consecutive season, this fairly young Witches squad fought tooth and nail to earn this reward.
”I said to the girls ‘If you want to stay alive, you have to win these games’,” said Salem coach John Fortunato. “They never got overwhelmed; they just won one game at a time.”
Salem has been plagued with injuries all season; in Wednesday’s game against Malden, it only had a six players dress. Despite the small numbers, the Witches managed to pull off a convincing 57-27 victory on the road.
”With an already small group, we’ve become even thinner,” noted Fortunato. “I realized the game was going to be a tough task with the group we had, but they expanded their roles and learned some new things — I’m just so proud of them.”
With the tournament seeding scheduled to come out today, Fortunato is more than happy to give his girls some much-needed rest. Though the month of February hasn’t been too kind to the Witches injury-wise, they’ve played some of their best basketball, including an overtime loss to Northeastern Conference champion Lynn English.
Rachael Zipper has been out of the lineup since suffering an ankle in practice prior to the Lynn Classical game. The sophomore point guard has been the floor general for the Witches all season long, and her presence on the court is most definitely missed.