Greensburg Salem loses delayed season opener to Jeannette

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Saturday, January 30, 2021 | 5:42 PM


Greensburg Salem boys basketball coach Mark Zahorchak glared through a doorway as his players ran onto the court.

He watched proudly and his Golden Lions, the last WPIAL boys team to take the floor for a game this season, finally returned to action.

There were butterflies. There were smiles and fist-bumps. There was also relief for those in the gym to see actual basketball again.

“I had a pretty cool view of it,” Zahorchak said. “I was thinking, ‘Man, this seemed like it would never happen.’ We were grateful to be able to play, finally.”

Visiting Jeannette, which looked fresh and swift after playing seven previous games, handled the Golden Lions, 60-33. But this Saturday afternoon matinee wasn’t just about the final result — at least for one team.

“To finally be able to come out, with only three practices … the speed of the game with (Jeannette) having eight games, you can’t simulate that at practice,” said Greensburg Salem senior guard Cade Cavanaugh, who opened game with a straightaway 3-pointer and finished with 10 points. “This is a good eye-opener for us. We’re happy to be playing.”

A pregame senior day ceremony was symbolic of how off-kilter the year has been for the Golden Lions.

“It was a strange experience,” Zahorchak said. “Having senior day before you played a game was strange. It was just about getting out here and playing.”

Greensburg Salem (0-1), set to play in Class 6A for the first time to promote more local rivalry games and cut down on mileage, tried to kick off rust that had built up over a month of down time.

Zahorchak likened Jeannette’s speed to an Indy 500 race car. His team, conversely, hadn’t been out of the garage in awhile and it showed.

Greensburg Salem was shut down for a total of 27 days, including the three-week statewide pause of high school sports imposed by Gov. Tom Wolf. More than one member of the team came down with the covid-19 virus, prompting multiple quarantines.

The team returned to practice Wednesday after a 10-day stoppage. Saturday couldn’t get here soon enough.

“Obviously we’re not happy with the result,” Zahorchak said. “But it certainly wasn’t a lack of effort. All 10 kids who played, played hard until the very final seconds. We had a lot of shots go in and out. These shots will eventually drop. If a few more drop early then who knows? Maybe we could have made it more competitive.”

Jeannette (6-2), trying to get healthy again with several key players out with injuries, leaned on 6-foot-9 center Hunter Schmidt and a hot-shooting first half to rout the hosts.

Schmidt had a game-high 18 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Senior guard Toby Cline added 13 points, and sophomore forward Ryan Kimmel also was productive under the basket and finished with eight points.

“Schmidt was the big difference,” Zahorchak said. “Kimmel was tough, too, on offensive rebounds. Jeannette is a great team.”

Greensburg Salem led 5-2 and got within 11-8 before the Jayhawks hit the accelerator.

It was 22-8 after one quarter.

Jeannette made 15 of 24 shots in the first half, ballooning the lead to 34-15 at halftime. All five starters scored in the first eight minutes.

“I feel for (Greensburg Salem),” Jeannette coach Adrian Batts said. “They’ll get going and get back into it.

“For us, We missed a lot of shots. This is a rivalry game, but it’s exhibition. If we miss those kinds of shots in games that matter, we could be in trouble. Still, this was a really good win. We defended and rebounded it well. We’re still trying to get to full strength.”

Schmidt scored 10 in the second half and led a 16-3 run that made it 54-23 early in the fourth quarter.

“We prepared for (Greensburg Salem) just like any team,” Schmidt said. “We knew they hadn’t played. But we’re going to give our best effort no matter who we play.”

Junior Ben Thomas, the only other player (Cavanaugh) with varsity experience for the Golden Lions, added eight points.

Greensburg Salem had 10 field goals and six of them were 3-pointers. Cavanaugh, Thomas and junior Donavin Waller all made two shots from behind the arc.

Senior Keith Rockmore, a transfer from Greensburg Salem, scored seven, all in the first half, for the Jayhawks.

Greensburg Salem plays at Mt. Pleasant Monday, then opens Section 3-6A play Tuesday at Penn-Trafford.

The season will get moving from there as the Lions play five games in nine days.

“We’ll be OK,” Zahorchak said. “This year isn’t about winning and losing games. It’s about getting an opportunity to play and appreciating the fact we’re here.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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