WESTFIELD — On the road in front of a loud, packed crowd against No. 4 Westfield, the Salamanca boys basketball team didn’t act like an underdog Friday night.
The No. 5 Warriors came out and took control of their road Section 6 Class C2 quarterfinal, leading 15-7 early and holding on for a 28-22 halftime lead. They only trailed once, 29-28, after a quick Westfield run to start the third quarter, but quickly responded with a 16-2 run and never looked back en route to a 69-46 upset victory.
“We said in the locker room the first five minutes of the second half was going to be critical and they came out and took it to us for the first two minutes,” Warriors coach Adam Bennett said. "Our guys, all week long we've been talking about defending and protecting the ball. We got beat in transition during their early run in the third quarter. Then we turned it over two or three times and they got easy ones. After that, we protected the ball, we got the looks we wanted and we were able to go on a run right back.
“But our guys, I like to think that they're mentally tough enough to withstand those kinds of things. They never lowered their heads or slouched their shoulders, they knew this is a team that was good enough to make a run and we were able to respond.”
The win clinches Salamanca’s first trip to Jamestown Community College for the sectional semifinals since 2015. The Warriors will face longtime league rival Randolph (20-1), the defending C2 champion and top seed which edged Franklinville 49-40 on Friday, on Tuesday at 5:15 p.m.
Salamanca had four guards in double-figure scoring, led by senior Aaron George, who dropped in 18 points on four three-pointers. Lucus Brown, an eighth grader, chipped in a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Junior Isaac Brown scored 13 points with four assists and senior Jarrett McKenna had 10 points with six assists. Junior center Jarod White added seven points and six boards.
The Wolverines were without starting center Andrew Baribeau for what coach Robert North called a “non-injury” reason. Michael Johnson led Westfield with 15 points, while Ryan Jafarjian scored 12 points.
North said the Warriors' inside presence with White, combined with outside shooting, made them tough to slow down.
“I think we saw a mirror of our team throughout most of the year,” North said. “They could throw it into the big guy, and then if you helped down or anything looked in, he kicked it out and they made shots. That's what basketball's all about is finding the advantage and they did a nice job of that. I didn't think we did a great job in our matchup zone of closing out on three-point shooters because we knew 10, 23 and 30 (Isaac Brown, Lucus Brown and George) could all shoot it and they did. They shot it well tonight.”
After taking control in the third Salamanca used another big run to put the game away, scoring the first 11 points of the fourth quarter. Bennett said it was critical to avoid turnovers in the fourth.
“The biggest thing was take care of the basketball, put the ball in the hands of our guards and let our guards make plays,” Bennett said. “Isaac, Aaron, Jarrett, all four of our guards were in double figures and when we started protecting the ball it gave them better looks. They were trapping us and really trying to put pressure on and they're quick and athletic, so our thing was if we're able to protect the basketball and move on the weak side, we're going to get better looks.”
Tuesday night will mark Salamanca’s first trip to JCC under Bennett, and he credits the work his players started almost a year ago.
“The entire year, our goal has been to get to JCC and compete to win a sectional championship. That started last March,” he said. “When we ended our season last year, I was going to give the kids a bunch of space, and they came to me a week after our season ended and said, 'Let's go, let's get in the gym.' Since then, they've been working toward this goal and I couldn't be more proud of them.
“We drew an insanely tough 4 seed, you go 14-6 in the regular season and you're playing a 17-3 team at home and they hadn't lost a game at home all year. So we knew what a challenge it was going to be. They have great guards they're exceptionally well-coached and our guys just played with a ton of heart. They made a bunch of runs at us and every time they made a run, we responded. We prepared for this. We scheduled tough, we played really good teams and we do that so that hopefully in these moments we can rise up and play well and tonight we did.”
Randolph, the No. 2 Class C school in the state, beat Salamanca twice in the regular season, 59-45 and 71-54.
“Nobody has more respect for Randolph than us,” Bennett said. “For my money they're the best team in the state, until anybody says otherwise. Kevin (Hind) is an unbelievable coach. They've got a team of experienced leaders, led by Ty (Hind). So they know us and we know them. Our job is to show up at JCC and play with the kind of heart that we did tonight and if we do that, we'll have a chance against anybody. That's all we ever can ask for. The things we can control are playing hard, defending, rebounding the basketball. If we do those things, hopefully we'll have a chance.”
J. McKenna 3 4-5 10, I. Brown 5 1-2 13, Pond 3 2-3 9, L. Brown 4 2-2 12, George 7 0-0 18, White 3 1-2 7. Totals: 25 10-14 69.
Holland 1 0-0 2, Swanson 1 0-0 3, Johnson 7 0-0 15, Scriven 2 3-4 8, Kneer 3 0-0 6, Jafarjian 6 0-0 12. Totals: 20 3-4 46.
Salamanca 15 28 47 69
Westfield 11 22 37 46
Three-point goals: Salamanca 9 (I. Brown 2, Pond, L. Brown 2, George 4); Westfield 3 (Swanson, Johnson, Scriven). Total fouls: Salamanca 12, Westfield 15. Fouled out: None.