BOARDMAN - There is a reason why heights are listed on basketball programs and, usually, announced in pre-game introductions.
More so than in any other sport, they matter.
Salem came into Wednesday night's Division II district semifinal with a clear size advantage. When the second-seeded Quakers decided to consistently use it on the offensive end they were able to overcome an early double-digit deficit and hold off a gritty Southeast squad, 54-52.
The Quakers (19-6) will play sixth-seeded Cardinal Mooney (11-11) for the district title Saturday.
"We wanted to get it in," said Salem head coach Rich Hart of his team's concerted effort to get the ball to its post people.
Six-foot-6 Max Wolfgang and 6-4 senior Anthony Shivers did the damage with the ball in their hands. Woflgang finished with 18 points and six rebounds while Shivers had 16 and 10.
Yet the game, which had six lead changes and three ties in the second half, was not decided until the final horn.
Ryan Bush's layup gave the Quakers a 54-51 lead with 50 seconds remaining. After the Pirates' Trevor Norquest missed a shot in the paint, Bush was fouled but missed the front end of a one-and one. Norquest then missed a 3-pointer and Mike Madison was fouled with four ticks remaining but he, too, missed the front end of a one-and-one.
The Quakers smartly fouled Corey Proctor with 1.1 seconds remaining. Proctor made the first foul shot before intentionally missing the second. Shivers grabbed the rebound as time expired to secure the Salem victory.
It was an unfitting ending for Norquest, who did his best to lead his team to victory. The senior, who can play all five positions, had 10 of his game-high 15 points in the final quarter and also led his team with eight rebounds and three steals.
"We've been very fortunate to have Trevor Norquest in our program," said teary-eyed Southeast coach Matt Dillon. "He's been a starter since he was a sophomore. He's done so many good things for us."
Early on, all the Pirates were doing good things. Nate Simyak and Lucas Bloom each hit a pair of 3-pointers as Southeast (14-10) opened a 16-4 lead a little more than 5 minutes into the contest. Although early, the final three minutes of the opening quarter were big for Salem.
"Huge," Hart said. "We played just a little bit (tentative) at the start. We were able to chip away, chip away, chip away and get it back to where it was manageable."
The Quakers did that before quarter's end, scoring the final eight points to get within four. The Pirates pushed the lead to 29-20 in the second quarter before Salem's Brendan Webb scored the final four points of the half to get his team within five.
The Quakers made 6 of 9 third-quarter field goals to head into the final frame with a 40-38 lead. Salem continued to look toward Wolfgang in the last 8 minutes, whether on the blocks or in the high post. The junior responded by scoring eight of his team's first 10 points in the quarter.
For a very large-bodied player, Wolfgang has remarkably soft hands, good court awareness and a soft touch. He said playing in the high post, and hitting outside shots, opens things up for teammates.
"When they have to pull out, the inside game opens up," Wolfgang said. "That means they have to focus somewhere else."
The Pirates had no answer for him on the blocks either, as he consistently got the ball and would back himself into scoring position.
Southeast dropped its second-straight district semifinal. The Pirates lost 53-40 to Poland a year ago.
"It's frustrating for us because we've had back-to-back sectional championships down here," Dillon said. "We've been one game away from the big game, tonight possibly one big shot away. I felt like we learned a lot last year from playing Poland. I'm proud of the kids."
Bush finished with 11 points for the winners and Webb had five assists. Jordan Krych had 12 points for Southeast and Bloom added 11.
Hart said his team will have to improve its performance if it hopes to advance to the regional tournament by beating Mooney.
"We've got to play better than we played tonight," he said. "We can't make mistakes and we have to hit our layups when we get them."