The Salem Witches just wrapped up one of the most impressive weeks of NEC high school basketball in recent history.
After beating Gloucester and Lowell the week before, Salem took down the undefeated #8 Danvers Falcons on Tuesday, 41-38. The next day, the Witches beat undefeated #2 Lynn English, 74-69.
Swampscott coach Dave Born hoped that Salem’s two upsets would make them overlook its upcoming game against the Big Blue. For a while, it did.
It wasn’t until the end of the first half that the Witches began to respect Swampscott’s talent. The Big Blue held a 28-23 lead at the break, fueled by its execution on offense and turnovers on defense.
But the streaks continued on Friday night as the Salem Witches (winners of five in a row) defeated Swampscott (who have lost the last four matches) 61-53.
The Big Blue stayed strong in the third quarter despite Salem’s newfound energy, as it took a one-point lead (41-40) into the fourth quarter. The Witches’ experience, and execution, in multiple close battles was evident in the fourth quarter when it outscored Swampscott, 21-12, in the final eight minutes.
It’s the second loss in a row for the Blue where it’s been within three points in the fourth quarter. In its loss against Beverly on Tuesday, Swampscott was down 54-51 with less than four minutes remaining in regulation.
“It’s fun when you’re in games like this,” said Born. “We talked about how we had an opportunity to compete against the best and knock them off because of their heavy schedule. They might have overlooked us. It was a fun game. We played hard.”
Swampscott had its strongest start of the season against the Witches. The Big Blue scored four three-pointers in the first quarter, two of them from sophomore guard Joey Ragusa. On defense, Andre Reeves and John King’s pressure on the passing lanes forced turnovers.
Ragusa particularly looked strong in the first half, scoring nine points. Coach Born said Ragusa was upset with his performance after the Beverly loss, but did an amazing job shaking off his past mistakes.
“He’s aggressive. He’s not afraid. He plays well against our best competition. He was stepping into his shots real nice today,” said Born.
But in the end, Swampscott’s talent wasn’t enough to outmatch the Witches’ execution. The Big Blue only made one three-pointer in the second half while Salem’s defense forced turnovers in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. The deadly combination of Swampscott’s offense falling flat and Salem’s aggressiveness was why Salem was able to pull away in the final minutes.
Swampscott has a week off to not only rest, but also to study for midterm exams. Its next game is at home on Friday against Revere.
As the season progresses, the Big Blue gather more experiences that will help them in the future.
“We’re getting there, and this is only going to help us later down on the road,” said Born.
Soon, the team will bring them all together.