Behind balanced scoring, the Quakers' 52-48 win created a log jam among the top four teams.
By CHUCK HOUSTEAU
SALEM -- Practice makes perfect.
That's the philosophy that Salem High coach Steve Stewart said led to Wednesday's 52-48 upset of Howland in a Metro Athletic Conference game.
"We played fantastic," Stewart said. "We've practiced well now for eight to 10 days and we needed to take that practice and put it out on the floor."
The win keeps the Quakers' (10-7, 4-3 MAC) title hopes alive, while Howland (13-2, 5-2) falls into a three-way tie with Poland and Canfield for first place.
Salem also avenged an earlier 53-40 loss to the Tigers in Howland.
"[Salem] out-hustled us," said Howland coach John Diehl. "They out-hustled us for loose balls and they shot the ball very well."
Strong start: The Quakers made eight of their first 11 shots to take a 17-6 lead in the first quarter.
"The big start was very critical for us," Stewart said. "We didn't want to have to try to come from behind against a talented team like Howland. We wanted to come out with an attitude."
Salem used a balanced scoring effort by Alyson Cotter, Tiffanie Heestand, Lauren Teal and Lizzie Jesko in the first half. Those four combined for 23 of the Quakers' 25 points.
Jesko, the sophomore point guard and team leader in assists, stepped up her game against Howland's bigger guards and turned in a fine offensive effort.
Good job: She finished with a career-high 12 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out six assists. She also knocked down four critical free throws in the final quarter as the Tigers tried to get back in the game.
"Lizzie played by far her best game of the season tonight," Stewart said. "You could tell she was focused. She was in a scoring mode and that was fantastic to see."
After Salem had built its biggest lead, 36-23, late in the third quarter, the Tigers made a run to get back in the game.
Led by their leading scorer, Marianne Krezeczowski, the Tigers worked the 13-point deficit down to four (43-39) on a free throw by the senior guard with 4:25 remaining.
Krezeczowski led all scorers with 17 points, including 12 in the second half.
Regrouped: But the Quakers were able to regroup and got a big play from freshman Sarah Hamilton, who grabbed a missed free throw and put in the basket for a 47-40 lead. The Quakers made their final five points on free throws to seal the victory.
"You can't get down by 11 points early like that and expect to come back," Diehl said. "We gave a good effort but we didn't play very well most of the game."
The Quakers are learning to win big games with young players.
Salem has only one senior on the roster and starts two juniors and three sophomores.
"We've been trying to grow up, trying to get better and trying to play at a higher level and I think tonight we finally did," Stewart said.