2A boys sectional final: East Lincoln 76, Salisbury 62
By Bret Strelow
DENVER ó With teammates Randy Almeida and Alex Weant providing assistance, senior Brandon Abel limped toward the locker room with a towel covering his head at halftime of Salisbury’s 76-62 loss to East Lincoln.
Abel helped the Hornets (28-2) put together a memorable season, but it ended in painful fashion.
Abel, Almeida, Thaddeus Williams and Tyler Lingard closed their careers as the Mustangs, led by Keith Rendleman’s 23 points, advanced to the Western Regional by winning a 2A sectional final Friday.
Abel, who injured his left ankle with three minutes remaining in the second quarter and made only a brief reappearance, was a freshman starter on a Salisbury team that dropped its first 12 games in 2005.
“To be where we started, for those guys to stick around and put in the time even though there were no guarantees, they believed in me and allowed me to believe in them,” fifth-year coach Jason Causby said. “You see the end result.”
Salisbury, the state’s top-ranked 2A squad, reached the third round of the playoffs for the second consecutive year but fell short of clinching a spot in the regionals for the first time since 1992.
Reserve guard John Knox started the second half and posted a career-high 19 points. Darien Rankin had 12, and Williams added 10.
Abel scored eight points before hurting his ankle as he pursued a loose ball near midcourt late in the first half. East Lincoln (26-4) capped that sequence with a basket to pull ahead 29-23, and Salisbury trailed 39-38 midway through the third quarter before allowing a 21-5 run.
“Losing him, there’s a momentary kind of lull there, but as we regrouped and got our defensive pressure set back in, I thought we had them where we wanted going into halftime.
“We’ve never relied on one or two people all year long. Losing him hurt our rotation, but we were committed to playing 32 minutes. I thought it was admirable him even trying to go back in, but it was obvious he couldn’t get up and down the floor.”
Rankin scored the first two field goals in a 7-0 run to end the first half, and a 3-pointer from Knox drew the Hornets within 31-30 at the break.
East Lincoln led 45-40 with 1:42 left in the third quarter when Abel, who had a career-high 31 points in a second-round win against Wilkes Central, hobbled onto the floor. He grabbed one defensive rebound before exiting for good 72 seconds after returning.
“It was just pain ó intense pain ó when I tried to run on it,” said Abel, who rolled his other ankle late in the regular season. “I wanted to get back in there, it’s just that I wasn’t going to be 100 percent. I didn’t want to affect the team.”
The Mustangs secured seven offensive rebounds in the decisive third quarter. An intentional foul led to a four-point possession that gave them a 45-38 lead, and Salisbury fell behind by 13 early in the fourth period.
The 6-foot-6 Rendleman, who’s headed to UNC Wilmington, had eight rebounds and five blocks. He altered several other shots as the Hornets employed a smaller lineup in the second half.
“I thought the difference in the game was our ability to keep them out of the lane,” East Lincoln coach Neil Hodges said. “They got in the lane several times, but from what we’ve seen they get in the lane an awful lot.
“I think we were probably 70- to 80-percent effective at one of our goals. If they got into the lane, it’s nice to have a kid back there who can block shots.”
Salisbury didn’t stop fouling as it tried to rally, and Causby picked up a technical in the closing minutes. East Lincoln went 18 of 23 from the line in the fourth quarter and 32 of 43 for the game.
The Hornets suffered a defeat for the first time since they lost their opener to South Rowan, and a remarkable winning streak carried them to the brink of a berth in Greensboro.
“Twenty-eight wins is something in my tenure here we may never match,” Causby said. “We’ll definitely aim for it, but to win 28 in a row is unbelievable.”
SALISBURY (62) ó Knox 19, Rankin 12, Williams 10, Abel 8, Phillips 5, Morris 3, Wilkins 3, Weant 2, Lingard, Almeida, Jones.
EAST LINCOLN (76) ó Rendleman 23, Spear 15, Sydney 14, Bethea 11, Davis 8, Creed 3, Decaro 2, McLean.
Salisbury 17 13 10 22 ó 62
East Lincoln 15 16 18 27 ó 76
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