Sammy flies in to put Salem in the Region IV tournament
SALEM – Salem senior Sammy St. Fleur kept his high school basketball career alive Monday night when he blocked a shot by Pulaski County’s Andrew Samuelson with about second left on the clock. The block saved Salem’s 48-47 win and assured the Spartans a spot in next week’s Region IV, Division 4 tournament.
It couldn’t have been more dramatic, or timely. With a 48-47 Salem lead and eight seconds on the clock Pulaski County’s Samuelson was on the line for two shots after being fouled on a drive to the basket. He missed both and Sammy grabbed the rebound and was quickly fouled.
With a chance to put Salem up three, Sammy missed both free throws. Out of timeouts, the Cougars rushed the ball down the floor and Samuelson drove to the bucket with time running out, releasing his shot just in time for the game winner. Only thing is, St. Fleur flew in and swatted the shot away to save the game.
“I thought we were going to lose,” said Salem coach Kevin Garst. “It happened so fast. He(Samuelson) had a couple steps and I remember thinking, ‘oh crap,’ and then Sammy came out of nowhere. I didn’t even see him until he blocked the shot. Boy he can get up!”
An understatement, to say the least. In the second quarter St. Fleur thrilled the crowd with a stick-back dunk that had the whole gym buzzing. The dunk and the block alone were worth the price of admission for the River Ridge District tournament crowd.
With the win Salem advanced to Tuesday’s semifinal, where the Spartans lost to top-seeded Christiansburg, 69-52. However, Salem still earned a spot in next week’s regional as one of the top three teams in the district in Division 4. Christiansburg is the regular season champ and the other three teams to reach the semifinal were Salem, Hidden Valley, and Cave Spring, and Cave Spring is a Division 3 school.
Where and when Salem will play next week is yet to be determined, but it almost certainly will be on the road. The Spartans missed a chance to tie for second place, and a possible home game, when they lost at Hidden Valley last Thursday, 51-39, in the final game of the regular season. The Spartans fell behind 30-16 by the half and never recovered. St. Fleur had 10 points to lead the team.
That dropped the Spartans to fourth in the district and set up Monday’s game with Pulaski, the fifth seed. Although the Spartans had beaten Pulaski twice, Garst was leery of this game.
“When you take everything into consideration, it was a tough game for us,” he said. “We just played them a week before and they’re well-coached, and they have a pretty good team.”
Salem led for most of the game but the Cougars had a late run, taking a three point lead at one point. Then, after both teams missed chances at the line, St. Fleur flew in to save the day. Matt Hill led Salem with 16 points, Troy Mann had nine and St. Fleur finished with seven.
Tuesday’s loss dropped the Spartans to 13-11 on the season. The River Ridge championship game will be played Friday at a site to be determined, and the Region IV pairings will be determined when the district tournaments are completed.
“I’m just happy we get a chance to play in the regional,” said Garst. “The kids have worked hard and they deserve it.”