WILMINGTON – The stands at the 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington were filled to capacity to see St. Mark’s and Salesianum meet on the basketball court, and for the first time since Jan. 22, 2010 – spanning 17 games – the Spartans left with a victory over their archrival. As is their style, St. Mark’s clamped down on defense when they needed to, and made enough free throws down the stretch to seal a 47-38 victory.
One of the players for St. Mark’s that night nine years ago was Sean Locke, who took his own life last July at the age of 23. This year’s game, and three others preceding it, was part of the SL24 Memorial Classic, which raised more than $208,000 for mental health awareness. It was an emotional evening for the Locke family, including his younger brother Aedan, a junior who started the game for the Spartans.
“It feels amazing,” he said. “My brother always started. The last time we beat Sallies, my brother was a starter. To be a starter and beat them again, it was amazing.”
Locke nearly brought the house down less than a minute into the game. His three-point attempt from the right baseline rimmed out, drawing an audible reaction from the 2,500 in attendance. Aedan Locke heard the crowd.
“I heard them. It would have been great (to make the shot), but every shot’s not going to fall,” he said.
Locke re-entered the game in the final minute, and he was mobbed at the final horn by his teammates and many of his schoolmates who were in the building. Many were wearing T-shirts bearing the phrase “UnLocke the Light,” the name of the foundation started in Sean Locke’s memory. But it was a tense journey to get to that point.
After a crisp first period, the offenses went into hibernation in the second. Each team scored just four points, and St. Mark’s led at the break, 15-13. Eric Ludman got the second half started with a nice spin move under the hoop, doubling the Spartans’ lead. But Jack Brown answered with a three-pointer, and the Sals brought out a full-court press that gave St. Mark’s fits. Brown’s shot started a 9-0 run for the Sals, with Darnell Vaughan scoring the other six points, and Salesianum built a 22-17 lead.
Devon Jones ended the run with a layup, and the Spartans scored nine more points in the last 2:31 of the third while holding the Sals to just two free throws. On back-to-back possessions, J.J. Psenicska pump-faked multiple Sals defenders for an easy layup, and Jones added a finger-roll to put the Spartans back on top. St. Mark’s took a four-point lead into the final stanza.
Victor Marcelo hit the first field goal of the quarter for either team with 5:27 to go, extending the Spartans’ lead to 31-25, and Ludman added two free throws. Rasheen Caulk cut the lead to 37-31 midway through the fourth, and Salesianum started sending the Spartans to the foul line.
St. Mark’s made six of eight from the line to stretch the lead to 12, but they started missing after that. The Sals were able to cut the deficit to seven, but Blaec Sanders scored the final four points for the Spartans as the Sals could not take further advantage.
Spartans coach Nick Sanna said he could feel Sean Locke’s presence throughout the night.
“I thought there was some Sean Locke magic there tonight. You could feel it in the building,” he said.
Sanna said the win didn’t get a monkey off the Spartans’ back, “but Godzilla. We finally took care of that.”
Eric Ludman led the Spartans with 14 points. Marcelo had 13, and Sanders added 11. St. Mark’s improved to 11-5 and hosts Wilmington Charter on Tuesday at 6 p.m.
The Sals were led by Vaughan, who had 17. Caulk had nine. The Sals (10-6) are also back on the court Tuesday, visiting Mount Pleasant for a 5:45 p.m. tip.