Behind a 22-point fourth quarter, the two-time defending Class 4A state champion Salmen won its season opener against Cabrini 44-42 on Monday night.
Baylor signee and reigning Gatorade Player of the Year Kalani Brown led Salmen (1-0) with 19 points. Shelanita Starks had six points and Myra Cooper had five for the Spartans.
“We came out sluggish in the first half and pretty much all of the third quarter,” Brown said. “In the fourth quarter, we just told each other as a team that this was it and do we want to win this game or not? We just wanted it more at the end of the game.”
Trailing 29-22 at the end of the third quarter, Salmen used an 8-2 run to cut the Cabrini lead to 31-30 with 4:38 left. Amire Bickham’s 3-pointer with 4:04 remaining tied the game at 33-33 and a layup by Brown gave the Spartans the lead for the first time since the opening quarter at 35-33.
“Kalani got stronger as the game progressed,” Salmen coach Kevin Anderson said. “Particularly in the fourth quarter. She started making some shots. Early on, our guards were shooting 20 percent and our post players weren’t much better at 30 percent. You can’t really win many games shooting like that. In the fourth quarter when it counted, our girls came through and paced us to a good win.”
In the season opener for both squads, Brown admitted that she and the rest of her teammates still need to get into better basketball shape — particularly Brown, who played volleyball for Salmen earlier in the school year.
“I know we had a lot of freshmen out there tonight with a lot of first-time jitters,” she said. “Everyone has to make the transition. It is going to get better. For me, playing volleyball meant I had not been with the basketball team shooting and working every day on the court.
“In volleyball, there are shorter distances you have to move,” she continued. “I’m still getting back into basketball shape, and I know I am going to get better.”
Anderson said his young squad will continue to grow.
“This is a new team with a new identity and much different roles than a year ago,” he said. “We have several young players that didn’t start last year that are going to have to step up. I’m counting on my three seniors to lead this team.”
Cabrini (0-1) was led by Rakell Spencer with 18 points and Kelsey Pinera (11).
“This is a tough loss,” Spencer said. “I felt like we could have done a better job communicating on defense and just overall. For this being the first game with everybody back, I think we played OK. I just feel like we have so much more to come with this team as the year progresses, and I’m excited about this season.”