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Salem puts away Girard with fine 4th quarter

Correspondent photo / Gary Leininger Thomas Cardiero (15) of Girard drives against Salem’s Sam Walter in the Quakers’ 61-41 victory.

SALEM — In a game closer than the final score indicated, the 19th-seeded Girard boys basketball team pushed seventh-seeded Salem hard into the fourth quarter Tuesday before falling 61-41 in a Division II first-round sectional game.

Salem coach Jeff Andres would like to bottle how his team plays in the fourth quarter of games because when the situation calls for it, the Quakers can take their play to another level.

Such was the case against Girard in John A. Cabas Gymnasium. The Quakers led the stubborn Indians by six after three quarters but went on a 15-1 run to start the fourth quarter.

“We did a great job turning it on in the fourth quarter, and we started hitting our shots,” Andres said. “We’re never out of it, whether it’s a close game or we’re down, these guys know they’re going to keep fighting until the end, and I’m really proud of them.”

It marked the Quakers’ fifth win in their past six games, with many of those triumphs featuring explosive offensive fourth-quarter performances.

Girard coach Craig Hannon felt his young team just couldn’t stem the tide during Salem’s hot fourth-quarter.

“It’s kind of been our bugaboo all year where we’re in a game for 23 or 24 minutes and then give up a big run,” he said. “We got sloppy with the ball, and I think they wore us down a little bit.”

Salem improved to 16-7 on the season and will play host to ninth-seeded Louisville on Friday night.

Girard, which starts four underclassmen, fell to 3-14.

Salem featured excellent offensive balance as three Quakers scored in double digits and two others just missed. Leading the way was senior Hunter Griffith (15 points), junior Jon Null (14 points) and junior Cade Rohm (10 points). Drew Weir and Brock Young added nine and seven, respectively.

“That (always attacking the rim) is the main part of my game,” said Null, who also added strong rebounding. “I definitely thrive inside.”

Pacing the Indians was sophomore guard Thomas Cardiero with a game-high 17 points, while Nick Cario finished with 13.

Salem was unable to shake the pesky Indians in the first three quarters, as the Quakers held narrow leads of 10-7, 20-19 and 38-32 at the quarter stoppages.

But the fourth quarter belonged to the Quakers.

“It was a little tight in the first half,” Andres said. “But we turned it up, and it had a little different feel to the game.”

The Quakers forced four turnovers in the fourth quarter, some that ended with fastbreak points. The hosts outscored Girard 15-1 in the first three minutes of the final frame to stake a 53-33 lead.

“We get deflections (on defense that leads to points),” Andres said. “We tell the kids that is an under-rated statistic, and we’re good at that. (Null) is one of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of coaching.”

Hannon could tell the physical play took a toll on his Indians.

“I think they got us tired, pushed out on us defensively,” Hannon said. “We had some turnovers, but I think they forced those with their length and athleticism.”

Salem took its biggest advantage at 22 points with 2:29 remaining. The Quakers outscored the Indians 23-9 overall in the final stanza.

“We knew we really needed to close it out,” Null said. “In my opinion, it shouldn’t have been as close as it was, but we really closed it out in the fourth quarter.”

Now it’s on to the Louisville contest for a berth in a district semifinal.

“We have a couple common opponents (with Louisville),” Andres said. “They played a couple of our EBC counterparts. They’re physical, but they’re coming to our place, and I’ll take on anybody with the group we have in the locker room.”

Girard, which began its season late due to the Trumbull County COVID-19 shutdown on sports, is hoping to pick up some additional regular-season opponents to play next week.

“We’re trying to look for some extra games, but they are not on the schedule,” Hannon said. “We’re working on something and I’m hoping (to play some more games).”

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