SALEM - It took them all season to do it, but the Salem Quakers finally came out on top of a close one. Salem turned away Louisville 69-65 in its regular-season closer at the John C. Cabas Gymnasium on Friday.
"I was worried," Salem coach Rich Hart said. " I thought here we go again, but we finally did it."
Hart knows all too well about finishing on the other side of things. His Quakers finish the regular-season at 8-12, but that record could easily be 15-5. Salem lost seven games by five points or less this season including two overtime losses.
"It feels good to finally get a close one," Hart added. "I'm so happy to get that monkey off our backs."
That proverbial monkey was almost too big to shake off. Salem led 18-16 after one quarter and 34-33 at the break. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Quakers and the Leopards were tied at 52, but Salem found itself down by seven with four minutes left in the game.
"We didn't panic," Hart said. "We battled back. We got a couple big baskets, a couple turnovers and a couple big steals."
Behind 61-54, Trent Kenreigh, Salem's big scorer with 26 points, put Salem back in contention with a three-point play when he was fouled on a layup and nailed the free throw after.
The Leopards immediately answered with a bucket to make it 63-57, but Salem got a huge pick-me-up from Zach Economous, who buried a 3-pointer to cut the deficit in half with 3:37 showing on the clock.
After a Louisville turnover, Kenreigh hit one from beyond the arc to put the Quakers back on even ground with Louisville. The Leopards would take the lead briefly when Bill Larson sank two from the line, but Max Wolfgang went inside for two points.
Louisville missed on its next attempt, and Kenreigh came away with the rebound.
He then drove in for a bucket to put Salem ahead for the first time in the quarter with 1:37 left. Louisville would not score again.
"We played great, but our defense is what I'm most happy about," Hart said. "We played tremendous defense and we held them scoreless for the last two minutes."
After the Salem go-ahead bucket, Louisville, trying to hurry for a quick shot, threw the ball away. Salem tried to run out the clock, but was called for a five-second violation after the ball was knocked out of bounds.
With 44 seconds to be played, the Leopards were threatening until Zach Penick came up with a steal under the Louisville basket. Salem was quickly fouled, missed the one-and-one shot, and the Leopards came down with the rebound. However when they tried to push up court, Kenreigh swiped the ball on a breakaway that ended in two points. That clinched the win for Salem.
After the steals, Kenreigh and Penick, Salem's two senior players, emerged as the stars of the game and on Senior Night no less.
"I am so happy for Trent Kenreigh," Hart said. "He ended his (regular-season) career at Salem the way he deserved to - as a winner. It couldn't have happened to a better player. He had incredible game. He led us in points and had that big steal at the end. Zach Penick came up with a big steal too. Penick and Kenreigh are our senior players and they really stepped up for us tonight."
Ryan Bush finished 15 points. Anthony Shivers added eight while Brendan Webb, Economous and Wolfgang all chipped in six apiece.
Louisville was led by Jake O'Brien who scored 19. Mike Kelly registered 16 and Trevor Meredith had nine.
The two teams combined for 18 3-pointers. Salem had 10 - Kenreigh and Bush each had three, while Economous and Webb each dropped in two. O'Brien had five and Kelly hit three.
With the regular-season now behind them, the Quakers are looking ahead to the sectional tournament. Salem will take on Niles Feb. 28 at Boardman.
"This was a big win for us," Hart said. "We go into the tournament with a win. We got a whole week to practice and hopefully we can keep it going."
LOUISVILLE: 16 17 19 13 - 65
SALEM: 18 16 18 17 - 69
LOUISVILLE SCORING: Cody Cheezan 3-0-6, Jon Crank 1-0-2, Mike Kelly 6-1-16, Jake O'Brien 7-0-19, Alex Scholley 0-1-1, Ronnie Carter 3-2-28, Bill Larson 1-2-4, Trevor Meredith 4-1-9. TEAM TOTALS: 25, 7-10, 65.
SALEM SCORING: Ryan Bush 5-2-15, Trent Kenreigh 10-3-26, Zach Penick 1-0-2, Brendan Webb 2-0-6, Zach Economous 2-0-6, Max Wolfgang 3-0-6, Anthony Shivers 4-0-8. TEAM TOTALS: 27, 9-5, 69.
THREE POINTERS: Louisville 8 (Kelly 3, O'Brien 5), Salem 10 (Kenreigh 3, Bush 3, Economous 2, Webb 3).