Salem pulls upset of Struthers to advance

STRUTHERS, Ohio (WYTV) – This is the time of the year that you want to be hot. The Salem Quakers boys basketball team is proving to be one of the hottest team’s playing in local tournament action right now.

Friday night the sixth-seeded Salem Quakers upset the third-seeded Struthers Wildcats on the Cats home floor 62-52 in a Division II boys district tournament action. With the victory, the Quakers will face the top-seeded Poland Bulldogs Wednesday night at Boardman High School with tip-off scheduled for 7:00 pm.

“It’s huge,” Quakers coach Rich Hart said of the importance of the victory. “The kids just played their butts off. They showed a lot of character. I’m just so proud of them.”

“I’m just extremely proud of the effort they all gave and they did that without a senior who averages 16, 17 points a game. A first-teamer in our league and these guys rose to the occasion and they just did a super job. All of them,” Hart said referring to the absence of senior starter Jon Gerace.

Gerace was suspended by the OHSAA for two games for grabbing the rim twice in the Quakers last regular season game against Niles. The Quakers have rallied without Gerace as they have knocked off both higher seeds Lakeview and Struthers.

“This is best for the team, good for the coaches and even better for Jon Gerace. He has been painfully sitting on the sideline knowing he doesn’t deserve that (suspension). He did nothing malicious to be suspended and were just glad to have him back,” Quakers forward Chase Ackerman remarked. “We just all put ourselves out there and left nothing.”

The Wildcats, however, grabbed the early momentum in the game as they grabbed a 13-8 lead early and held a 16-15 advantage at the end of the first quarter. But the Quakers would rally as they would take their first lead of the game since the early moments at 26-25 at the 2:39 mark of the second frame when Garrett Dickey knocked down two free throws. They would hold a slim three-point lead of 32-29 at halftime.

Part of the Quaker’s resurgence came from Ackerman, who sat out part of the first quarter due to two early fouls. “I got real frustrated because early in the season I fouled out like four games this season. I thought oh, no this can’t be the game that this happens. Not now, not here. But I just started playing a little bit smarter, knowing when I could do different things and when I couldn’t. I just played the situations,” Ackerman explained.

Ackerman would lead the Quakers in scoring on the night with 20 points and 8 rebounds while teammate Mitch Davidson added 17 points. Garrett Dickey had 12 with Zack Bezon recording 11 points.

“Me and Mitch have a good connection. He is one of my best friends. He’s a good teammate and a good guy to have. He reads the court so well and makes it even easier for me to score. Most of the credit for my scoring I give to him. His passes are great,” Ackerman said of his teammate Mitch Davidson.

The Wildcats would not go away quietly as they battled back to take the lead in the third quarter at the 3:46 mark when AJ Musolino hit a basket to make it 39-38 in favor of the Cats. But the Quakers would go on a 7-2 run to close the frame as they held a 45-41 lead at the end of the quarter.

The Quakers essentially sealed the game at the 4:38 mark when the Wildcats coach James Franceshelli protested an official call resulting in a technical. Davidson would sink both foul shots to give the Quakers a 55-46 lead. The Cats would not be able to close the deficit to less than seven points in the final four minutes.

“This wasn’t a speech I prepared today to end the season,” Wildcats coach James Franceshelli admitted. “When you don’t come to play and don’t make shots and can’t make stops, this stuff happens.When we got it to one (point game) a couple of times we couldn’t get a defensive stop.”

Andrew Carson would lead the Wildcats in the scorebook as he recorded 19 points while AJ Musolino added 19 and Carson Ryan chipped in with 10. Carbon would also pace the Cats with 7 rebounds on the night.

“We had to play as well as we played,” Hart said. “We had to play a solid game all around. I knew if we could hang around, our guys would gain confidence. We gained some big confidence by beating Lakeview. We probably shouldn’t have won that game too. But if you hang around, good things can happen.”