WILMINGTON — Salesianum, having built up an 11-point lead midway through the final quarter, withstood a comeback attempt by Tatnall, then pulled away for a 61-47 victory in the quarterfinal round of the DIAA boys basketball state tournament March 9 at the Father John Birkenheuer Gymnasium. The Sals advanced to the semifinal round and will host Smyrna on Thursday. It is the farthest the school has gone in the tournament since 2015, when they won their second straight state championship.
Second-seeded Sallies watched that lead dwindle to six points at 50-44 after Bryce Scott scored five straight for the No. 10 Hornets, then again at 53-47 after another Scott field goal. But the Sals answered both times.
Senior Ethan Hinds responded the first time. He drove the lane for a scoop shot, taking a big bump in the process. He converted the three-point play to push the lead back to nine. After Tatnall cut it to six once more, Salesianum made two free throws, followed by a corner three from Justin Molen that extended the lead to 11 with just 35 seconds to go.
Hinds, playing with last year’s quarterfinal loss to Dover in mind, closed out the scoring with an emphatic dunk after stealing a Hornets pass.
“All the seniors were all let down last year when we lost to Dover, so this game was like a redemption game for us. All week, we’ve been locked in, and we were just ready for anything,” he said.
The game, played before a boisterous, socially distanced crowd, was close most of the way. The teams combined for five three-point shots in the first quarter, which ended in an 11-11 tie. Hinds had two of them, including Sallies’ first points 3:15 into the game.
Scott and Omari Banks scored to open the second, giving the Hornets a four-point lead. But the Sals fought back, taking a one-point advantage on a triple from Brett O’Hara, followed by a layup from Jackson Conkey as he crashed to the floor. The teams were tied at 20 toward the end of the first half, but a three by Hinds, along with another Conkey contested layup, staked the Sals to a 25-20 lead at the break.
Conkey is a senior who transferred to Salesianum from Tatnall this year. He played for the Hornets as a freshman and sophomore, and he said his familiarity with his former teammates helped Tuesday night.
“I know all their strong suits, so I just used my strength and what I know about them against them,” Conkey said.
The Sals opened it up with a 7-0 run to start the third quarter. Hinds had five of those, and Molen added a pair of free throws. Their lead stayed between eight and 11 points until the end of the third. O’Hara took advantage of a Hornets turnover, dropping in a short field goal just before the buzzer sounded, putting the hosts on top, 41-28.
The crowd included two family members for each player on both teams, plus additional spectators that included a small number of Salesianum students. The gym was quite loud. Conkey said that was one of the reasons he chose the school, although COVID-19 restrictions has limited the number of people in attendance all year. He appreciated the support.
“I loved it,.” he said. “Most of the gyms are quiet this year. I haven’t been able to experience a normal Sallies crowd, which is one of the reasons I came here. It’s sad that I missed that. But with the people we had, it gave the gym energy.”
The Sals will host Smyrna, the sixth seed and champions of the Henlopen Conference North. The Eagles defeated No. 3 Howard, 59-50, to advance. Conkey said the Sals will watch their games and will be ready to go.
“I know they have a bunch of dudes that can jump, so I just have to box out and be strong with the ball, get out on transition,” he said.
Hinds led all scorers with 24 points. Molen joined him in double figures with 11. Conkey and O’Hara each had eight. The Sals are now 11-3.
For the Hornets (11-5), Scott and Banks each had 17 points.
All photos by Jason Winchell.