WILMINGTON — Salesianum held a 45-36 lead at Tower Hill with three minutes remaining and had done a superb job limiting the effectiveness of the Hillers’ twin sharpshooters, Dean and Dylan Shepherd. But teams all over Delaware have learned that you can’t keep the Shepherds down forever, and as time wound down, Tower cut into the lead.
The Hillers had the ball with 7.1 seconds to go with a chance to tie or take the lead. A three-point attempt by Dylan Shepherd, however, was disrupted, and a last-second prayer wasn’t answered, allowing the Sals to get out of the Carpenter Fieldhouse with a 45-43 victory and a return trip to the Bob Carpenter Center for the DIAA semifinals on Thursday.
Salesianum certainly hadn’t forgotten that the Hillers defeated them handily last March in the state championship game. Tower’s Carpenter Fieldhouse was raucous the entire game, with a large group of Sallies students managing to procure a ticket.
The Sals, seeded fifth in the tournament field, led the No. 4 Hillers at the half by a 25-21 count. A 14-5 run in the third quarter helped Salesianum build its biggest lead of the afternoon at 41-30. The Sals got contributions from a variety of players during that stretch.
Kareem Thomas got it started, driving down the right side for a layup after taking a crisp pass from R.J. Johnson. Isaiah Hynson added a pair of free throws, and Justin Hinds added two more with a dunk off a feed from Zach Swartout. The run concluded with two Hynson three-pointers, the first off a give-and-go on an inbounds pass and another from the corner with the assist to Johnson, sandwiched around a pair of free throws for the Hillers’ #14.
Defensively, the Sals controlled the boards, limiting Tower to one shot most of the time. They also blocked a number of shots and forced the Hillers to look for players not named Shepherd.
Hynson said there is a way to play against prolific scorers like the Shepherds.
“You’ve just find out what they do well, key in on that, and just play together as a team,” he said.
Dean Shepherd began Tower’s climb back into the contest with two free throws after a Sals technical foul. Those points made the score 41-32 Salesianum after three quarters.
The Sals blocked another shot a minute into the fourth, but Dean Shepherd scored in transition after a turnover. Still, the lead was nine points after Johnson hit from down low, but Sallies could not take advantage of opportunities to extend the lead.
Robby Saunders rebounded a missed shot and laid it in with 2:50 to go, and it was 45-38. Dean Shepherd hit a free throw, followed by a driving layup, cutting the Sals’ lead to four and causing mayhem among the Tower Hill students in attendance. The Sals missed a free throw, and Dylan Shepherd made them pay with a leaner at the 1:09 mark.
Sallies ran the clock down to 33 seconds before Johnson was whistled for a questionable offensive foul, giving possession back to the Hillers. Tower missed two shots and called timeout with 7.1 to go after getting an offensive rebound. Hinds appeared to get a piece of Dylan Shepherd’s three-point attempt, and a shot to tie hit the rim as the buzzer sounded.
The Sals’ players ran the length of the court to celebrate with their student section, which filled the temporary bleachers in the one end zone. Hynson was thrilled to see the support and noted that some students had experienced problems trying to get tickets.
“All the kids got tickets. Parents got to come. It was fun,” he said.
Sallies will play the top seed, Middletown, on Thursday at the Carpenter Center at either 6:30 or 8:10 p.m., with the winner advancing to the state championship game against the winner of William Penn vs. Howard. Hynson is ready for redemption.
“I’d say last year’s championship played a big role in me being hungry to get back,” he said. “The Bob’s a great place to play. A lot of history there.”
Hinds had 17 to lead the Sals, including a pair of dunks. Hynson and Johnson each added 11. The Sals improved to 15-7.
Dean Shepherd led all scorers with 23, and Daniel Somerville had 11. The Hillers finished the season 17-5.
All photos by Jason Winchell.