WILMINGTON — Salesianum put the offense in high gear early in their basketball game against Middletown son the evening of March 5, and the defense clamped down all night as the Sals defeated the Cavaliers, 66-39, in the second round of the DIAA state tournament.
A near-capacity crowd filled the Father John Birkenheuer Gymnasium to see the 11th-seeded Cavs battle the Sals, the sixth seed. Both entered as two of the hottest teams in Delaware. Middletown won nine of their final 11 regular-season games, including victories at Appoquinimink and William Penn, and defeated Lake Forest in the first round of the tournament. The Sals started the season 3-7 against an extremely tough schedule, then rebounded to finish 12-8 and earn a bye into the second round.
Turnovers played a big role all night long, and the first bucket came in transition. Ethan Hinds stole and inbounds pass a minute and a half into the game and streaked the length of the court for a layup and a 2-0 Sals advantage. After the Cavs tied things up, Tommy Montooth connected from beyond the arc, and Justin Molen went down low for two. Nick Semonelle drained a three for Middletown, but Molen drove for another short field goal, then he hit a three to push the lead to 12-5.
The Sals’ defensive pressure continued to produce opportunities, and when they didn’t score on their first shot, they often earned second and third chances. On one possession, Rasheen Caulk grabbed three offensive rebounds. Eventually, after another offensive board and two Middletown fouls, Caulk finally sank a three-pointer, and the Sals led, 19-10, after one.
Both teams struggled to put points on the board in the second as the teams flew up and down the floor. Semonelle hit his second and third threes of the evening, the second of which pulled the Cavaliers to within 22-17 with 3:10 left in the half. But the Sals found enough offense to go on a six-point run to end the half, including Molen’s second triple of the evening.
Sallies put the game away with a decisive third quarter.
One of the Cavs’ key scorers, Ja’Bree Pitts, got untracked somewhat after a quiet first half. He scored six points in the third, but the Sals kept the run going from the first half. Molen opened the third with another three, and a few possessions later he drove the lane for a finger roll before Kam Roberts ended the run at 11 with a second-chance layup.
A key reserve entered the game for the Sals with 3:31 to go in the quarter, and he made an impact. James Yelbert scored eight of the team’s final 12 points in the third, all from close range. His final two points came on a two-handed tomahawk as the quarter ended, courtesy of a baseline feed from Jack Healy.
Sallies hit 11 of 12 free throws in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
Hinds was a steady presence on both ends; he led the Sals with 19 points, including nine of 10 from the free throw line. Molen finished with 15, Mashon Tiller had 11. The Sals improved to 13-8. They will travel to No. 3 Dover on Saturday at 6 p.m. in one of the quarterfinals. Tickets are $6 and available at the door.
Pitts had 13 to lead Middletown, while Semonelle added 11. The Cavs ended the season 14-8.
The other Catholic school playing in the second round, St. Elizabeth, lost to the top seed in the tournament and defending state champion, Sanford, by a 67-51 score. The Vikings, who were the bracket’s No. 16 seed, finished the season 15-7.