By Jean DePlacido
---- — SALEM -- It is crunch time for the Salem High girls basketball team in its quest to qualify for the postseason tournament. The Witches took a giant step forward with a hard-fought win over Beverly, 45-37, on Senior Night. Now they must beat Everett and Malden to earn a berth.
It wasn’t easy as the scrappy Panthers fought hard the entire game. Salem coach John Fortunato knew this was going to be a tough game, especially without sophomore guard Rachael Zipper, who is injured.
“Beverly gave us our worst beating of the year the first time we played them,” said Fortunato, his team now 8-10. “It wasn’t even close so we knew this would be a tough challenge for us. Beverly made us work hard for the win. Ten is the magic number.
“It was tough without Rachael, and then Maritza Scott went down (ankle). I’m going to have a tough time finding enough healthy bodies for our last two games.”
Sophomore Arianna Gaffney was unstoppable with baseline shots and led all scorers with 14 points. Scott had a dozen, and Brianna Rodriguez hit double figures with 10. Jaclyn Panneton had seven points,16 rebounds, and four blocked shots.
“We were offensively challenged tonight,” said Panther coach Matt Smith after his team fell to 5-15 with the loss. “I thought we played pretty good defense except for the first two minutes of the game, but our offense was the big problem.
“We just couldn’t score. All year long we’ve struggled against teams with two centers (Panneton and Shanteliz Nunez). Give Salem credit because they played very hard with Zipper out. I know they’re hoping to make the tournament, and that’s a great motivator.”
Salem capitalized on Panther turnovers to put eight unanswered points on the board in the first quarter, but Beverly fought back to tie it up at 8-8 on a basket by Abby Carnevale. The Witches went on an 11-0 run that carried into the second quarter to take a 19-8 lead, and they never trailed from that point on.
Beverly closed the gap to 22-19 at the half after scoring the last eight points before intermission. After Flaherty drove to the hoop for a layup the Panthers only trailed by a point, 22-21, but Salem quickly built the lead back up on consecutive baskets by Nunez, Gaffney, and Scott.
“I can’t say enough about the job Scott did,” said Fortunato. “She got inside to grab rebounds and put her shots in. Gaffney also did a great job with some big baskets.”
Beverly pulled to within one late in the third quarter after a basket by Carnevale, 31-30, but every time they threatened Salem answered at the other end. The Panthers had only one basket in the last quarter and were outscored 12-7.
Mary Cate Flaherty led Beverly with a dozen points and five steals while Kate Steriti had six assists. Bridget Keaton had a team-high nine rebounds.
“Flaherty played well defensively, and created a lot of jump balls,” said Smith. “She was hustling all over the court the whole game, and her steals led to some points for us. The girls never let down, but we just didn’t have enough offense to pull it out.”