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Salem’s Anthony Lopez drives into a Trinity defender during the second quarter of the Blue Devils’ 20-point loss to the Pioneers. (Dan Moberger Photo))

Trinity trumps Salem

The Salem Blue Devils have winter break to find a rhythm after their second-straight, 20-point loss Thursday, Dec. 20. Trinity High School rode a strong second half to capture a win from the Blue Devils, 66-46, in their home opener.

Salem head coach Rob McLaughlin, who is already attempting to slowly integrate Anthony Lopez back into the rotation as he recovers from a knee injury, saw starting guard Michael Felix hit the floor with an apparent ankle injury in the second half.

McLaughlin said he didn’t know the extent of Felix’s injury yet, but he and his staff are making sure Lopez doesn’t rush back too early.

“We’re being careful with him,” McLaughlin said. “We don’t want to make it worse than it was or extend it, so hopefully we can get him back and work him in slowly.”

The banged-up Blue Devils led early in the game, but once they surrendered the lead, Trinity never gave it back. The Pioneers picked apart Salem’s defense to cash in on several three-pointers, and Trinity big-man Mabor Gabriel proved hard to handle inside.

“We got some great looks in the fourth and just didn’t get them to fall,” McLaughlin said. “Against a team like that, they’re going to take advantage of those and once it gets to a point, you’re really scrambling from behind.”

With the injuries to Felix and Lopez, Salem relied on seniors John Hartman and Steven Nugent on the offensive end.

One thing McLaughlin said was lacking in the team’s first two games was toughness, and Hartman stepped up to that challenge against a big, disruptive Trinity squad.

“He stepped up, played a lot tougher and hit some big shots for us at some points,” said McLaughlin. “He did a better job on the glass. As a senior, that’s kind of what we’re expecting out of him, so hopefully he can keep that up through the rest of the season.”

Nugent was one of several Salem players with a second half steal, but the Blue Devils struggled to finish resulting fast break opportunities around the rim.

“Steve Nugent, number 22, gave us some great hustle minutes,” McLaughlin said. “That’s what he did last year and that’s what I expect out of him this year.”

Salem had another test the next night against Central Catholic at the Christmas Tournament in Lawrence, Mass., before starting their break. The Blue Devils re-enter NHIAA action on Jan. 8 at Winnacunnet.

“You play a team like Trinity one night, you use a ton of energy and it’s a physical game, and then you’ve got to come back the next night, but that’s the schedule,” McLaughlin said. “We’ll battle it and then we’ll use the break to get healthy and work to fine-tune some stuff, so hopefully we can get into the second half – the post-break season – and really start to get after it.”

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