By Randy Whalen
Khaled Salah blamed himself.
But the truth is, Sandburg wouldn’t have even been had the chance to win the game if it wasn’t for the senior forward’s efforts.
Salah scored a game-high 12 points, including eight in a big third quarter. But one play turned the momentum of the game, and the Eagles saw a lead slip away as the Porters embarked on a 19-5 burst down the stretch to rally for a 47-43 victory in a SouthWest Suburban Blue showdown on Feb. 14 in Lockport.
There was a large crowd in attendance, many of them dressed in pink to show their Valentine’s Day love for the 8th Annual Porters vs. Cancer Night. The Porter faithful saw their squad sweep Sandburg for the first time in three seasons. Lockport won the first meeting this year, 42-39 on Jan. 24 in Orland Park.
The Eagles swept the season series two years ago and the teams split last year.
The past month of this season has been a frustrating one for Sandburg (12-13, 1-4), which was above .500 following on Jan. 17 but have since lost five of eight, with the last four of those losses all by five points or less.
“Yes, it is very frustrating,” Sandburg coach Todd Allen said of his team’s close losses. “I feel bad for the kids, they work hard and go out and play hard.”
Salah felt bad because he tried to make a play and didn’t.
“I gambled on a steal at the end of the third quarter,” he said. “So that’s on me.”
For the first 23 minutes and 56 seconds, the game was a grind-it-out battle in the trenches. The Eagles used a 7-0 run and to take a 31-23 with seconds to play in the third, and with the way the game was going that eight-point advantage looked more like 18.
Things looked bleak for the Porters (12-15, 2-4), but Sandburg turned the ball over with 3.4 seconds left in the third quarter. It was the Eagles first turnover of the third period after they had 13 in the first half.
Salah tried to steal the ball back but missed, and Lockport senior guard Tim DiCristofano dribbled downcourt, pulled up from just right of the top of the key and drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer. What could have been a 10-point Sandburg lead was instead five.
“That three for them, that was the switch in momentum,” Allen said. “That was a huge difference in the game; it completely changed it.”
Porters senior swingman Tommy Ferriter hit a free throw and a 3-pointer in the opening two minutes of the fourth quarter to cut the lead to a single point. Following a Salah layup, Ferriter found the range for another trey and the game was tied at 33 with 5:22 to play.
Eagles senior guard Leo Serdar (11 points) answered Ferriter’s three with one of his own to give Sandburg one last lead at 36-33 with 5:04 to play.
Sandburg senior guard Hani Ali banked in a 3-pointer with one minute to play in the game to make it 42-39, but that was the closest the Eagles got the rest of the way. The Porters went 5-of-7 from the line in the final 41.5 seconds to accounted for the final points.
Salah led Sandburg with 12 points and 13 boards. Senior guard Atharva Atreya added 10 points.
“Khaled is unbelievable,” Allen said of the 6-foot-2 Salah. “The effort he puts in is unreal. He’s undersized in the post but he’s in there battling, has a lot of heart and has really come on strong for us.”
Senior guard Zachary Kusper opened the scoring by hitting a 3-pointer for Sandburg, which led the whole first quarter and was up 9-6 after one period. The Eagles extended to leads of 15-8 and 16-10 with 3:55 to play in the first half. But the Porters ended the half on a 7-0 spurt for their first lead and took that 17-16 advantage into halftime.
“We can’t have that many turnovers in the first half,” said Allen, whose team only had three turnovers in the second half. “You can’t do that and expect to win.”