Home Local Sports Salesianum basketball upsets No. 1 Middletown in front of raucous crowd: Photo...

Salesianum basketball upsets No. 1 Middletown in front of raucous crowd: Photo gallery

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R.J. Johnson lays a ball in off the glass for Salesianum as Amir Cunningham comes in behind him. Dialog photo/Mike Lang

WILMINGTON — The Salesianum basketball team was looking for a strong performance as it heads into the toughest part of its in-state schedule. On Jan. 24, they found it, handling the state’s top-ranked team, Middletown, by a 51-32 score at Father Birkenheuer Gymnasium.

A capacity crowd was on hand — including a large contingent of black-clad fellow students — for the midseason showdown. The home team gave them plenty to cheer about on both ends of the floor.

Isaiah Hynson and R.J. Johnson gave the Sals a pair of two-point leads in the early going, but the Cavaliers were aggressive in attacking the hoop and tied it both times on free throws. The Sals would score the next seven, however, en route to a 10-1 stretch to close the first to take a 14-5 lead after one.

Kareem Thomas opened the second with a three-point shot, and Aidan Montgomery scored on a follow shot to get the lead to 14. Middletown, meanwhile, couldn’t buy a bucket during the first half. They missed from the outside and inside, and the Sals would not let them get many second chances. The Cavs tried pressing the Sals, but Salesianum’s guards were able to get through. Zack Swartout slashed his way through the Middletown defense with three minutes to go to increase the lead to 23-5.

A corner three by Brandon Baffone pushed the lead to 21, the biggest it would be in the first half. After a steal in the final minute, the Cavaliers’ Ty’renne Hynson went in for a layup, the team’s only field goal of the half and lone points of the second quarter.

Middletown had some success in the third quarter as they tried to get back into the game. They forced a five-second call on the Sals and converted that turnover into a three-point play for Jaiden McGhee. After a Cavaliers free throw, however, the Sals got their offense in gear again. Thomas followed his own miss, and Justin Hinds banked in a three-pointer. Baffone then found room to drive down the middle, pushing the lead to 22.

The Cavs fought back. They went on a 10-0 run, momentarily quieting the Salesianum student section. Jaden Rogers got it started with a triple, and Amir Hite also hit from three, this from the corner. Hite scored again in transition, and after a Sals turnover, Ty’renne Hynson cut the Sals’ lead to 12 with another layup. Sallies led by 14 as the game moved to the fourth.

The final eight minutes, however, belonged to the home team. Middletown scored just eight points in the fourth, all from the free throw line, and four of those came in the final minute.

The Sals, meanwhile, turned up the intensity. Early in the quarter, Swartout had the ball stolen from him, only to get back to block a Middletown shot. After an Isaiah Hynson three-pointer, Swartout registered another blocked shot right in front of the student section.

Thomas also added some highlights in the fourth. He scored once after rebounding a missed three-point shot, sneaking to the hoop behind the Cavs’ defense. He then stole a Middletown pass and went in for a dunk. Isaiah Hynson also had a highlight-reel play, grabbing a loose ball on an errant pass and going in for a two-handed slam.

After handing the Cavaliers their first in-state loss of the year, the Sals’ players celebrated with their student section.

Thomas and Isaiah Hynson each scored 12, while Johnson had 10. Salesianum (6-6) travels to Smyrna on Friday at 7 p.m.

For the Cavaliers, Hite had 9 to lead the way, with Ty’renne Hynson and McGhee adding 8 each. Middletown (10-2) visits William Penn on Saturday for a 12:30 p.m. start.

All photos by Mike Lang.