NEWARK – Sanford School needed a late comeback Tuesday night in the boys' basketball state quarterfinal matchup against Friends, escaping with a one-point win. The Warriors did not repeat that performance Thursday when they met Salesianum in a semifinal, taking control early and cruising to a 60-40 win in front of a sellout crowd at the Bob Carpenter Center.
The Warriors (19-4) will play for their fourth straight state championship Saturday at 1 p.m. against Howard, also at the Bob. Howard defeated Hodgson, 55-48, in the first game of Thursday's doubleheader. The teams did not meet during the regular season.
Salesianum was competitive early, taking a 6-4 lead, but it was all Sanford after that. The Warriors, behind eight first-quarter points from Sabri Thompson, scored the next 10 points. One of the evening's few highlights for the Sals came as time expired in the opening stanza when Donte DiVincenzo drilled a 50-foot three-pointer as the buzzer sounded.
Over the next three quarters, Sanford gradually built its lead behind the shooting of Thompson and Todd Hughes, who finished with 22 and 15 points, respectively. Sanford's big men inside – Austin Ford, Kyle Ford and Hughes – gave the team a significant advantage on the boards, as Sanford finished with 42 rebounds to the Sals' 30. They turned many of those boards into second-chance points.
Meanwhile, Salesianum (19-4) never got into a rhythm. The Sals shot just 14-52 from the field for a shooting percentage of 26.9. They were just 4-20 on three-point attempts, with two of them coming in the closing minutes. Sanford kept the Sals' off-balance, clogging the passing lanes and forcing bad shots.
“I've been saying it all year long. That's our staple; defense is where we hang our hat,” Sanford coach Stan Waterman said. “We feel like if we play defense the way we like to and the way we prepare, that's going to give us a chance to win most of our ballgames. And then if we're making some shots, then we're having a really good night.”
The Warriors were in DiVincenzo's way all night, keeping the high-scoring sophomore to 12 points, just three in the first half.
“We wanted to play him close and challenge every shot, contest every shot without fouling, Waterman said.
Salesianum coach Brendan Haley said the Warriors' defense was the primary reason for his team's offensive woes.
“You have to give them credit. They took us out of everything we wanted to do. They step it up when it's the right time,” Haley said.
This was the first time any of the current Salesianum players appeared at the Bob Carpenter Center. Sanford has made a habit of playing there in March, which, Haley said, worked to their advantage.
“We got a taste of what it takes when you get here,” Haley said. “You've got to deal with some pretty good pressure from a real good team that's well-coached and knows what it takes.”
Nick Perugino joined DiVincenzo as the only other Salesianum player in double figures with 10 points. After emerging from the Sals' locker room, he reflected on his three years as a member of the varsity.
“It's been awesome,” he said. “Between the fans, the support from the faculty and staff, the students, outside people, alumni, I wouldn't change it for the world. I came up from the beach to enjoy stuff like this, and I definitely got that at Sallies.”
Perugino said although the season didn't end the way he had hoped, it was a satisfying campaign. The team's losses came to Sanford (twice), Howard and St. Elizabeth, also a tournament team.
“This is one of the top five overall records in school history, so you can't get mad at that. I think we've had a great year as a team,” Perugino said.
In the girls' tournament, top-seeded St. Elizabeth and No. 4 Ursuline won their quarterfinal-round games Thursday night, setting up a showdown of the state's top two teams in one of Saturday's semifinal games at the Bob.
The Vikings defeated No. 8 Smyrna, 56-37, while Ursuline came from behind to beat No. 5 Appoquinimink, 47-39. The teams met twice during the regular season, with Ursuline winning two close ones, 50-49 and 54-51. They will play Saturday after the first semifinal, which pits second-seeded Sanford against No. 3 Caravel (which advanced with a win over St. Mark's). The first game tips off at 6 p.m.; the second should start around 7:30.
Tickets are $8 for the doubleheader and are available at diaa.ticketleap.com. Tickets for the championship game, which is Monday at 7 p.m., also at the Bob Carpenter Center, are also available for purchase at the site.