Falcons ready for rematch
It’s been a year since it happened, but the Salisbury boys’ basketball team still remembers the pain it suffered last February. Well, at least some of the Falcons remember.
After completing a 16-1 regular season in the Colonial League last year, with its only loss coming in the finale against Southern Lehigh, Salisbury edged Wilson in the league tournament semifinals. But two days later, the Falcons came up a game short of capturing a championship with a devastating 59-49 loss to Bangor.
A win would have given Salisbury its first league title since 2011. And for a number of current seniors and head coach Jason Weaver, it stung even more after having such a dominant regular season.
The good thing going for Salisbury is that it has a chance to get back to the Colonial League finals once again and right the ship. But if the Falcons want to see those aspirations come true, they’ll have to get through a familiar foe in Southern Lehigh in the semifinals on Wednesday at Catasauqua High School at 6 p.m.
“That left a little bit of a bad taste in our mouths,” Weaver said. “We were in that game, and Bangor played really well; they hit some shots. Dasheen [Reid] got hurt in that game. The what-ifs go through your head. I think there is some hunger here.”
Tevon Weber, Dylan Belletiere and Chad Cooperman headline a senior class that experienced that gut-wrenching end last February.
“Personally, I feel like I’m doing it for the seniors last year because we wanted it so bad last year,” Weber said. “I’m trying to get back there again for them and hopefully get the win this year.”
Wednesday will mark the third time this season the teams will tip off against one another, including the second meeting in exactly a week. The squads split the first two games with the home team taking care of business on their own court, but it’s the way the Falcons fell in their latest game (a 56-52 defeat to the Spartans) that has produced some red flags.
Weaver’s team led by double digits at halftime and held a comfortable six-point advantage with about a minute to play. But that’s when things went downhill for Salisbury.
“We didn’t execute down the stretch down there,” Weaver said. “There is some frustration about how we handled that game last Wednesday night. We started off well; I think we were up 16 at one point in the first half and up 11 at the half. We were up six with the ball with under a minute to go, and we didn’t do what we needed to do.”
Salisbury actually held comfortable leads late in both games; the Falcons led by as much as eight points in the fourth quarter of the first meeting. Getting off to quick starts hasn’t necessarily been a problem. It’s closing out the game that’s been at the forefront of practice heading up to the pivotal third and decisive showdown.
“We played well until the end and we had our mistakes,” Belletiere said. “We really want to come out strong and metaphorically step on their throats and not let them back into the game like we did this past game.”
Southern Lehigh’s post presence played a big part in its comeback seven days ago. Jacob Cassel led all scorers and consistently put pressure on Salisbury down low. Limiting Cassel will be key on Wednesday night.
“I think they did a good job of attacking us inside,” Weaver said. “Cassel had 26. They did a good job on the boards and getting some offensive rebounds…We have to make sure our posts are forcing him out a little bit to get him off the block.”
And becoming more balanced on offense is one area the Falcons need to get back to moving forward.
“Offensively we need to get contributions from a bunch of guys,” Weaver said. “Tevon had 24 down there [against Southern Lehigh]. We were a little unbalanced scoring-wise.”
This year marks the sixth straight season that Salisbury has qualified for the Colonial League tournament. Three times have the Falcons advanced to the finals. They’ll look to add number four to that list and their second league championship in that six-year stretch.
This group of Falcons, however, has never tasted league gold. Not yet, at least.
“Tevon and I were talking about that,” Belletiere said. “We were saying how we really want to go out as champions. We’re really looking forward to going out there.”