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Alex Light was a starter for the Salem football team that was ousted from the playoffs by Heritage. He scored 16 points and grabbed 13 boards to make sure it didn’t happen again.
DON PETERSEN | Special to The Roanoke Times
Salem players, assistant coach Benny Kawa (left) and head coach Kevin Garst (center) celebrate their victory over Heritage in the quarterfinals of the Group AA Division 4 state tournament at Salem Civic Center on Saturday. The Spartans advance to the final four.
DON PETERSEN | Special to The Roanoke Times
Salem’s Alex Light clears a rebound against Heritage’s Justen Joyner (23). Light snared 13 rebounds in the quarterfinals of the Group AA Division 4 state tournament on Saturday.
Saturday, March 2, 2013
Heritage's football team ended Salem's season in Salem Stadium three months ago.
On Saturday night, Salem's boys basketball team was not about to let history repeat.
A couple of hundred yards from where the football game took place, Salem got revenge as the Spartans pulled a 53-45 upset over Heritage in a Group AA Division 4 quarterfinal at Salem Civic Center.
Alex Light, a starting offensive tackle in the fall, personally pancaked Heritage's hopes as the 6-foot-6, 295-pound Salem center scored 16 points without missing a shot and grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds.
"I had that mental image stuck in my head of them dancing around on our home football field over at Salem Stadium, just chanting and hooting and hollering," said Salem senior Matt Hill, who played quarterback on the football team.
"That really hurt me. I wasn't going to let it happen on the basketball court."
Hill collected 11 rebounds to go with nine points and three blocked shots as the Spartans (17-10) earned a state semifinal berth at 9 p.m. Tuesday against Potomac Falls, which won Division 4 titles in 2010 and 2011.
John Repass had 12 points, including three 3-pointers for Salem. Troy Mann added 10 points, including two free throws with 39.7 seconds left that put the Spartans up 49-45 and quelled a Heritage rally after the Pioneers had cut a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to two.
However, the big story was the biggest man on the floor.
Light, sealing off defenders with a powerful forearm and receiving pinpoint entry passes, made 7 of 7 shots in the low post as Heritage (20-7) simply had no answers inside. Light scored 12 points in the first half, sparking Salem to a 27-19 halftime lead.
"We thought we could front him, but he's really strong," Heritage coach Dan Stephens said. "You probably don't appreciate his strength until you're in there battling with him."
Salem played a sagging zone defense that slowed the tempo, allowing Light to stay on the floor for all but seven minutes of the game.
The benefit of the zone was twofold. Heritage couldn't buy a perimeter shot as the Seminole District champions were just 15 of 58 from the field. Star forward Jeremy Hill went 1 for 10 and finished with just two points.
"Luckily the pace of the game never got too frantic," Salem coach Kevin Garst said. "A big part of it was we just packed it in. We kind of rolled the dice. I just heard they don't hit a lot of shots. They never got into a great rhythm on the perimeter."
Heritage mounted a comeback by finding driving lanes in the second half. Junior guard Justin Joyner, who scored 16 points, connected on a baseline drive to cut Salem's lead to 47-45 with less than a minute to play.
Mann hit his two big free throws, then Will Pratt and Mann added two apiece after Salem got a pair of defensive stops.
The Pioneers were too late in attacking the basket.
"We talked about doing it from the pregame meeting," Stephens said. "It took us a while to figure out what we wanted. It's a process for sure, and we didn't do a good job with it."
Conversely, Salem went inside all night. Pratt had five assists and backup guard DeVonte Joyce added four assists with no turnovers in 19 minutes.
Whenever Pratt and Joyce looked to the low post, they saw the Light. Hill knows what's it is like to defend the big guy in practice.
"Sometimes they'll put a scout team in there and he'll rough them up, so I'll get in there and I'll hack him and push him around," Hill said. "He outweighs me by 80 pounds.
"Man, he's a load in there. He's 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds but he's not clumsy. He's very controlled and very coordinated."
Fatigue for Light on Saturday was not an option.
"I had to push through it," he said. "I knew this game was on the line. It's all about staying with my teammates."
That could describe Salem's season. The Spartans started 4-8 but have won 13 of their last 15 to reach the state semifinals for the first time since 2009 when they lost to Courtland in the championship game.
Heritage reached the semifinals last year, but stumbled this time in Salem as the VHSL's "super site" formula forced the Pioneers to travel to the Spartans' back yard even though they won the Region III title and the Spartans were the Region IV runners-up.
The Pioneers won't argue if Liberty University ever gets in the super site rotation.
"We would love that," Stephens said. "We think Lynchburg is a great central location, but they haven't asked me my opinion.
"The further you get, it seems the worse the hurt is once it ends. That's something that we've experienced intimately what that feels like. It's difficult."
Mann 2 6-7 10, Hill 3 3-5 9, Light 7 2-2 16, Repass 4 1-1 12, Pratt 1 2-2 4, Marshall 0 0-0 0, Joyce 1 0-0 2, McDaniel 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 14-17 53.
Jefferson 2 6-7 10, Trent 1 0-0 2, Hill 1 0-0 2, Joyner 6 3-4 16, Tyree 3 2-2 9, Sherman 0 0-0 0, Hamlette 1 0-0 3, McCoy 1 0-0 3. Totals 15 11-13 45.
Salem 16 11 8 18-53
Heritage 8 11 7 19-45
3-point-goals - Salem 3 (Repass 3), Heritage 4 (Hamlette, Tyree, McCoy, Joyner). Total fouls - Salem 12, Heritage 15. Fouled out - Joyner.
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