GLOUCESTER — The Salem girls basketball team took the floor at Gloucester High School last night in a very similar position to that of their hosts.
Each team has shown positive glimpses throughout the course of the season, but inconsistency has pushed both near the bottom of the Northeastern Conference standings.
As the season continues to wind down and each team struggles to sneak into the state tournament, the desperation on the floor last night came as no surprise.
Salem, however, had an ace up its sleeve in center Jaclyn Panneton. With strong defense and an 18-point, 20-rebound performance from Panneton, the Witches were able to overcome a dominant performance from Gloucester forward Sophie Black and walk away with a 45-38 win.
“I think it was a battle of two teams that are desperate teams, struggling in the middle of the pack,” Salem coach John Fortunato said. “Both teams played extremely hard and I feel very fortunate that we made just enough plays to come out on top.”
The game seemed decided entering the fourth quarter. With the Witches, who had led since the opening minutes of the game, having extended their lead to 37-25 at the end of the third quarter, it appeared that all they’d have to do is ride out the final eight minutes to cruise to a victory.
Black, however, had already proven she had different plans. With Panneton dominating the paint for the Witches, Black provided the counterpunches for Gloucester, grabbing 10 rebounds and notching nine points in the second half to keep Gloucester alive.
With Black, who finished with 22 points and 14 rebounds, commanding much of Salem’s defensive attention and the young Witches turning the ball over rampantly, Gloucester cut the Salem lead to as few as six points in a fourth-quarter pushback.
“Black was killing us I thought,” Fortunato said. “Whenever we’d start to get up, she’d always seem to find an answer, find a big basket. I thought Black was just awesome tonight. We had a tough time with many different girls trying to cover her. She just looked like a veteran. I find that, with my young kids, they’ve just got to learn to not panic and keep their composure. Sophie shows that.”