BY BRANDON STARK
Featured photo: SU senior guard Aprile Preller directs players as she dribbles the ball. Nov. 14. Marshall Haas photo
In its first game of the year, the Salisbury University women’s basketball team looked to defend its home court and start off the 2018-19 season with a victory. Salisbury is coming off a 15-11 (10-8 CAC) record from a year ago.
This year, the Sea Gulls are confident that the addition of talented newcomers matched with their seasoned veterans will equate to success this season.
“I think that the [freshmen] and the [returning players from last year] have meshed really well,” SU head coach Kelly Baskow stated.
The impact was immediately seen with three freshmen (forward Kaylee Otlowski, and guards Jada Welbon and Kylie Webb) in the starting lineup to begin Wednesday evening. Senior guard Megan Konig and sophomore forward Courtney Brigham filled out the starting five for Salisbury.
The visiting Virginia Wesleyan Marlins came into Maggs Physical Activities Center Wednesday night off of a 77-52 road loss to No. 20 Christopher Newport University, one of Salisbury’s conference rivals. The Marlins did not want to start the season 0-2 and made it tough for Salisbury early on in the game.
The Marlins started the game on a 4-0 run, only for Salisbury to score a layup and a three-pointer to take an early 5-4 lead. Salisbury later found itself down 11-5 in the first quarter, but the Sea Gulls were able to trim the Marlins’ lead to 13-8 at the end of the first quarter.
The Sea Gulls battled in the early stages of the second quarter to regain the lead. Off a three-pointer by freshman guard Lauren Fortescue, Salisbury tied the game at 15. A layup from senior forward Kaylyn French put Salisbury over the top, taking a 17-15 lead.
The home side did not relinquish its lead after this, with the Marlins coming within one point of Salisbury before the Sea Gulls distanced themselves by increasing their lead to 22-16. The Marlins would end the half scoring five points to cut Salisbury’s halftime lead to 23-20.
The third quarter only aided in bolstering Salisbury’s lead. The Sea Gulls came out of the locker room and held Virginia Wesleyan scoreless in the third quarter. In addition to this impressive defensive feat, the Sea Gulls’ offense scored 23 points in the quarter, equating its entire first half total.
“We had a good halftime talk, and we knew [Virginia Wesleyan] were going to come out strong, so we knew we had to come out stronger,” Fortescue said.
The Sea Gulls took their 46-20 lead into the fourth quarter and continued the same trend. Despite the Marlins getting one more point in the quarter than Salisbury, the Sea Gulls’ defense held VWU to under 10 points for the third consecutive quarter.
Salisbury had outscored the Marlins 45-15 after the first quarter, eventually taking its season-opener 53-28 over Virginia Wesleyan.
“The first half was a little bit of nerves,” Baskow said. “It was our first game [of the season]. We played a lot of [freshmen] in their first college game. Settling in and trusting what we do made the difference.”
Wednesday’s victory marked Salisbury’s fifth consecutive victory over the Marlins and sixth consecutive year winning its first home-opener. The last time Salisbury lost a home-opener was at the hands of VWU in the 2012-13 season.
Both of Salisbury’s leading scorers came off the bench, with French leading the Sea Gulls with 14 points while also recording seven rebounds and a steal. The majority of French’s points came from the charity stripe, where she converted 60 percent of her free throws.
Fortescue also scored in double digits, racking up 10 points alongside two rebounds and five steals in her collegiate debut. Also making their first appearances in the maroon and gold, freshman forward Kaylee Otlowski led the Sea Gulls with eight rebounds, while freshman guard Jada Welbon racked up a team-high three assists.
After its victory, Salisbury will now head to Gwynedd, Pa. for a two-day weekend tournament at Gwynedd-Mercy University this weekend. The team’s first game in the tournament is Friday night against Albright College, which is slated for an 8 p.m. tip-off.
“We’re ready,” French said. “We are going to take the momentum form this game, go to practice tomorrow and get ready for this weekend.”