By Joseph Staszewski
Holy Cross has been a familiar, but unfriendly place for Joe Salerno — until now.
The St. Francis Prep senior guard saw his season end last year in Flushing last season. On the opening tap he leapt up and caught the ball, but saw he feet come out from under him. Salerno landed awkwardly, sending a defining sound through the gym. He broke his pelvis and ended his season.
When he left the gym this time, he was again hobbled, but a hero.
“I live a block away,” Salerno said. “I’ve been coming here since I was 4 years old. It’s a real good feeling to win.”
Salerno scored 22 points, including five three-pointers and led the finishing charge over the final minutes. It gave visiting St. Francis Prep a 67-51 victory over the Knights in front of a standing-room-only crowd in a CHSAA Class AA intersectional boys’ basketball game Friday night.
It is the Terriers’ first win over their bitter Battle of the Boulevard rivals in four seasons and the first ever at any level for many for the current varsity players.
“For the rest of my life,” senior guard Mike Murray said when asked how long he’ll remember the victory for. “It’s the rivalry. Everybody is here. The crowd is going crazy. Our adrenaline is pumping. I couldn’t stop smiling. The last minute I couldn’t stop smiling.”
He and Salerno provided plenty of reasons to smile in the fourth.
Salerno scored nine points, including two three-pointers during a decisive 19-4 run in the fourth after Holy Cross, ranked No. 8 in the city by the New York Post, took a 43-42 lead on spinning drive from Evan Conti with 6:10 left.
George Hatzioannides answered with an acrobatic drive of his own. Murray hit two free throws and a reverse layup around a Salerno three-pointer and fed Glyne Straker off a steal for two. Salerno later capped it off with a three-point play off a feed from Straker to give SFP a 60-47 lead with 2:28 remaining.
“[Salerno] talked to me about [last year],” Terriers Coach Tim Leary said. “It’s his senior year and kind of the scene of last year. He was aware of it. I think that pumped him up a little bit.”
Murray scored 13 points and Andrew Winter had 13 points, seven rebounds and drew three offensive fouls for St. Francis (8-4, 1-2), which had just a single league win last season. Hatzioannides added nine points and five boards.
Conti led Cross (8-4, 0-1) with 22 points, Marquise Moore 11 and Anthony Libroia nine. Winter and Straker helped make 6-foot-9 Knights center Marcus Hopper a non-factor for most of the game.
“When we finished at Christmas, he was averaging 12 rebounds and seven offensive fouls a game,” Leary said of the 6-foot-2 Winter. “Even though we don’t have a big guy in the middle he is doing a good job.”
The Terriers opened the game with that kind of toughness. SFP led 19-6 after the first quarter and 32-20 at the half. Holy Cross opened the third quarter on a 17-4 run behind Conti and held St. Francis Prep scoreless for more than four minutes to take a 38-37 lead with 1:42 left in the quarter. SFP ended the frame strong and took a two-point lead and momentum into the fourth.
“Four seniors, one junior and this is our last time ever playing at Cross,” Murray said. “We knew we had to set the tempo early. We let them come back in the third quarter, but in the fourth quarter we came out strong.”
Last season’s game there and Salerno’s injury sent the Terriers’ season in the wrong direction after a 10-1 non-league start. With winnable league games against All Hallows and Xaverian coming up, Leary is hoping this victory will have the opposite effect. It certainly will be that way for Salerno.
“First win here,” Salerno said. “It’s the best feeling I’ve had so far as a high school player.”