The 2nd-seeded Panthers took care of their home court on Tuesday night and eliminated 7th-seeded Toll Gate from the Boys Division III Basketball playoffs, beating the Titans 59-48 at Johnston High School during the Quarterfinal round.
Tom Colombo, a junior, and Derek Salvatore, a freshman, led the Panthers with 14 points apiece, while Tom Zednik, a junior, chipped in 13, and Jayden Osborne, also a junior, 10.
“My team and I, we had a long week off, but we worked hard every day, worked hard for this moment, and we got the win,” Zednik said.
And Salvatore, the first-year guard, was no exception. The newcomer to the program has been a delight for Johnston head coach Ed Bedrosian to teach.
“We lost two of our starters in the middle of the season and he picked up his game,” Bedrosian explained. “We wouldn‘t be where we are without him. Midway through the season, he really stepped up his game and helped us a lot. He’s a nice player to coach. He’s a good kid, just goes out and plays his game.”
Toll Gate was topped by Liam Hart, who had 11 points and Francisco Lopez and Alex Usher, who added nine points each.
Ten minutes into the contest, the Panthers used a 9-0 run to build a commanding 24-14 lead after a 3-pointer each from Salvatore and Anthony Tavares. The spurt also saw Tavares make two free throws and Colombo one.
With 3:21 remaining in the half, Tavares dished ahead to Salvatore for a lay-in and that upped the Panthers margin to 28-16.
Johnston headed into halftime holding a 33-22 advantage.
“I warned them at halftime,” Bedrosian explained. “I said, ‘listen, the game can go one of two ways, we can extend or we can let them back in the game,’ unfortunately we let them back in the game and they cut it to two, but we had some resilience and that’s where the seniors came up big.”
“We didn’t get rattled and we opened it back up again,” Bedrosian continued. “So, I’m happy. We haven’t played in 12 days, so we were a little nervous about how we were going to come out. We came out pretty good, and then we finished very well.”
The Panthers cushion briefly grew to 38-24 after a corner trey from Colombo, but Toll Gate’s Austin Noon, immediately responded with a 3-ball of his own, which jumpstarted a 16-4 Titans spurt that got Toll Gate within 42-40 with 5:42 left.
Hart scored seven of the other 13 points during the run, while Usher and John Gyra chipped in two points apiece and Lopez one.
Nonetheless, Salvatore buried a shot from downtown for Johnston after that and got the Panthers a little bit of breathing room at 45-40.
After Toll Gate’s Noon answered with a spinning layup, Johnston’s Colombo, was fouled while attempting a 3-pointer. The junior forward made just the first of the three free throws, but fortunately for the Panthers, Tavares grabbed the offensive rebound after the third shot and dished to Colombo again, who this time made the trey untouched and extended the Panthers lead to 49-42.
Toll Gate came up empty on its next trip down the court, and Tavares grabbed the defensive rebound before he was fouled and added two more points from the charity stripe, which extended the Panthers cushion to nine with 3:49 left.
Johnston maintained that advantage the rest of the way and cruised to the 57-48 triumph and advances on to the semifinal to face 6th-seeded St. Patrick on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Cumberland High School.
As they move on to the next round, Zednik remains fearless. The forward hopes to bring a banner home to Johnston this year, but he won’t overlook any opponents on the way to their goal.
“I’m feeling confident,” Zednik said. “We’re all a big group together. We have a lot of chemistry this year. I think we can do it this year, but we can’t look past next week.”