LYNN, Mass. -– One night after knocking off two-time defending MIAA Division 3 state champion Danvers, there was only one way Salem could have one-upped its biggest victory of the season to date.
The Witches upped the ante on Wednesday night by knocking off heavily-favored Lynn English (6-1), 74-69, behind their athletic trio of forwards.
Bryan Martinez-Rodriguez led Salem (6-1) with 22 point and 11 rebounds, while high-flyers Rashad Keys (16 points, eight rebounds) and David Kazadi (13 points, 17 rebounds) both showed to be dominant forces in the paint.
“Going into this week, we weren’t nervous, but this was tough week for us. We played Danvers last night and beat them, and then we come here and play English,” Salem coach Tom Doyle said. “So we beat the two-time defending state champs yesterday and to come here without a practice to prepare. Our guys stepped up, I thought it was great to see them respond to a big situation.”
It was the Bulldogs who jumped out to the first half lead, however. Star junior Erick Rosario (23 points) got hot in a hurry early on, scoring 13 points in the first half to give English a 33-30 lead. Danny Lukanda (eight points, 19 rebounds), widely-known as one of the state’s best rebounders, had 13 boards alone in the first half. Six-foot-6 forward Johnny Hilaire, one of the best post prospects in the MIAA, totaled 16 points and eight rebounds.
“Johnny Hilaire is starting to step up a little bit," English coach Mike Carr said. "Danny Lukanda...here was some time when he thought he was going to end up in Salem, his family was moving, so it was in him that he wanted to go beat them today. He’s been playing outstanding—he’s been a solid double-double."
Salem’s extended 3-2 zone gave English guard Freddy Hogan (12 points) fits all night. Rosario, constantly harassed by traps and double teams, was forced to work hard for shots that most came in a slow-down, halfcourt offense.
“We allowed them to slow us down," Carr said. "We became a team just walking it up trying to run a zone offense against what they do. They’re long, they’re a talented team—I think they’re going to be a strong contender in D2. We allowed them to slow us down, we didn’t shoot well, they killed us on the glass."
With little time for specific preparations between Tuesday’s Danvers game and Wednesday, Doyle and his staff mainly made in-game decisions based on what they had seen from scouting English in games from earlier in the season.
“We scouted them, we know them from the past and everything. We had a good scout report that we just wanted to contain them in the halfcourt. We would like to run against them a little bit and try to get to the top of the press, but it wears you down,” Doyle said. “But we tried to play that 3-2 extended out on Hogan, we tried to limit his shot. We lost him a few times but overall I thought our kids did a great job.”
Unsung Hero: Keys nearly took the rim off on a couple of high-flying dunks, but it was Bryan Martinez-Rodriguez who was the key contributor down the stretch for the witches. Martinez-Rodriguez, while he may not have the athleticism of his counterparts, showed to be an efficient finisher and a reliable guy to get to the free throw line down the stretch.
“He’s been playing great for us," Doyle said. "I think he’s kind of the forgotten guy a little bit, and he’s the junior who didn’t play much last year. He steps up and does what he needs to do—whether that’s defensive, rebounding, or scoring. He’s doing a great job for us this year."
While English was sometimes struggling to manufacture good shots in the closing minutes of the game, Martinez-Rodriguez crashed the offensive glass, finished tough shots though contact, and ultimately was the different maker when the Witches pulled out the five point victory.
“We had a couple guys come up huge tonight...It was great to see that we stayed composed in a hostile environment," Doyle said. "That was a great environment for a high school basketball game—they had a great home crowd and they made their runs. We have five new starters out there this year and I’m very proud of my guys."
Down, not out: Despite the disappointing loss, Carr believes losing a game like this early in the season might actually be exactly what his team needed.
“I’m disappointed with the loss, but I think it might be a good thing for us in the long run," Carr said. "We’re missing some of that toughness, some of that leadership, and not having the three guards going at all times is what it is. We might become special again, last year we caught fire in a bottle. This year...We’ll see."
One of the exciting factors of next week will be the return of point guard Stevie Collins, a junior who was perhaps the Bulldogs’ most consistent contributor offensively when they made their run all the way to the Division 1 North finals last year.
“Not having Stevie Collins hurts, but that’s not why we lost the basketball game. We can’t allow teams to make us play their style,” Carr said. “I never want to lose anything, but sometimes games like this are a good slap in the face too.”