Greensburg Salem girls end string of 1st-round playoff exits with win over Hopewell

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Tuesday, February 20, 2024 | 9:32 PM


Seven years was long enough for Rick Klimchock. First-round exits had become a little too common for the Greensburg Salem in the girls’ basketball playoffs under his watch.

That had to change, and it did so in a fashionable way for the Golden Lions with a 43-20 win over Hopewell on Tuesday in a WPIAL Class 4A first-round game.

What happened next in the locker room wasn’t hard to envision as Klimchock returned to the hardwood to greet parents and fans with his hair drenched with water.

“We took all of our water bottles and put water on him,” junior Blessing Gantt said. “We knew it would be a big night for him. Since we got to high school, we’ve always lost first round, and this year we knew we had to put it together.

“Coach has meant a lot to us. He’s been there for a lot of us since elementary school.”

Not only does the first-round victory hold a special spot in Greensburg Salem history, but it also hits home with a team that is solely locally grown.

“These kids are all Greensburg people. I’m a Greensburg guy,” Klimchock said. “This win’s for Greensburg. It means so much to these kids to win one.”

Overcoming a slow start in front of a raucous crowd, the eighth-seeded Golden Lions orchestrated a 15-0 run to close the first half and dominated defensively after switching into a zone.

The Golden Lions (16-7) held the Vikings (11-12) to six points in the second half and shut them out in the fourth quarter.

“We decided to go to our zone, and it was great the whole game,” Klimchock said.

The visiting Vikings, the ninth seed, quickly settled down the Golden Lions’ faithful in the opening minutes as Caylee Sundy got going early by driving into the paint.

The Vikings’ leading scored the opening bucket, a trio of free throws and a smooth mid-range jumper that put her team ahead 11-7 after eight minutes. Sundy finished the night with seven points

“She’s been banged up the last few weeks of the year,” Hopewell coach Jeff Homziak said. “She gutted it out tonight. She is our leader out there.”

With Hopewell holding a slim lead 14-9 lead entering the second quarter, the game drastically changed as the Vikings’ limited roster and Greensburg Salem’s size advantage took over.

Coming off the bench, Gantt provided the spark that the Lions needed as she contributed eight of her team-leading 14 points in the first half, controlling the paint.

“I tried to bring my all,” Gantt said. “I knew we had some size advantage for sure.”

As Gantt scored some timely buckets, she also rose up to add a thunderous block right in front of the student section.

“Some kids get nervous in front of crowds, but she thrived in the moment,” Klimchock said. “She wanted to play, and the crowd got her going. The crowd was great.”

From there, Greensburg Salem flipped that defensive switch and forced Hopewell to take some ill-advised shots that led to a lengthy scoreless drought between the second and third quarters.

The Golden Lions coupled that defensive play by scoring 23 unanswered points.

“They got second and third opportunities that they didn’t get in the first quarter, and that turned the tide,” Homziak said.”

Adding to the Greensburg Salem offense was leading scorer Kaitlyn Mankins — who was limited by foul trouble in the first half — as she finished the night with 12 points. Senior Ashlan Price piled on 10 points, along with some key rebounds.

Avery Boyd paced the Vikings with eight points.

A tall task awaits Greensburg Salem as it takes on top-seeded Blackhawk (20-2) on Friday in Chippewa Township.

“We played Blackhawk earlier in the year, and we lost to them in overtime here,” Klimchock said. “We’re thrilled to get a second chance to play them and be moving on.”

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