“We looked up at the banner this morning that says 2001 with five sectionals in school history, and we said ‘Let’s get our name up there,’” said Salem girls basketball coach Jerry Hickey, who won seven games his first season in Salem and now has 12 and counting in his second campaign.
It wasn’t easy. They had to beat host Scottsburg, then Charlestown on Friday to get to the final. The last obstacle was North Harrison, a team that had beaten them on their own floor 47-39 on Dec. 19. What made the difference?
“We grew up in the last week,” Hickey said. “We had a great summer and had all these high expectations. Then we came out and we were turning the ball over too much and not making shots. We didn’t understand how hard it is to win a varsity basketball game. Here at the end we’ve started to figure it out a little bit. You have to play hard every possession and rebound every possession, and that’s been the big difference.”
First the Lions (12-13) had to weather the Cats’ defense. North Harrison led 5-0 when Sadie Soliday finally got Salem on the board with a layup more than halfway through the first period. Soon it was tied 8-8, but back-to-back 3s by North Harrison’s Cali Nolot, who led all scorers with 19 points, pushed the Cats to a 14-8 lead. But from that point on the zone defense Salem was using started working. The Lions scored 13 of the next 15 points to take a 21-16 lead, a lead they never surrendered the rest of the game.
Leading 21-17 at the half behind 11 points by Soliday, Salem put the second half lead in the hands of solid senior Alex Davidson. She responded with 11 points in the last 16 minutes (13 overall) as she dribbled through a frustrated Cats’ defense for most of the fourth quarter.
“We want the ball in her hands with the game on the line,” Hickey said.
Davidson was happy to oblige.
“I always tell coach to give me the ball and I’ll do it,” she said.
She was the first player to cut a piece of the net after the game, and was asked to explain the Lions’ sudden turnaround.
“We’ve never played with more heart,” she said. “We definitely believed we were going to win and we did what we had to do. It feels amazing. We’ve never made it out of the first round of the sectionals since I’ve been here.”
Salem (12-13) – Alex Davidson 13, Sadie Soliday 11, Liz Weaver 8, Ansley Walton 4, Laken White 4, Amber Kilburn 3.
North Harrison (17-10) – Cali Nolot 19, Taylor Rennirt 8, Jessicka Chiquito 4, Hallie Hinton 3, Stevi Burns 3, Jourdan McAfee 2.
3-point goals – Salem 2 (White 1, Soliday 1). N. Harrison 7: (Nolot 3, Rennirt 2, Chiquito 1, Burns 1).