Neshannock turns back Union
Neshannock (71) Vs. Union (61)
By JOHN D’ABRUZZO
John Corey never saw it coming.
After addressing his Neshannock High boys basketball team in the locker room following a fourth-quarter comeback win over Union, the Lancers’ rookie coach was doused with a Gatorade bucket full of water and ice.
“It felt a little cold on my bald head,” said Corey, as water continued to drip off his face, black dress shirt and multi-colored, striped tie.
Neshannock not only battled back from a five-point halftime deficit to pull out a 71-61 victory over the Scotties last night at a crowded Mike Covelli Field House, but the win also gave the Lancers a share of the section title with Lincoln Park.
Neshannock (8-2 section, 15-6 overall) finished the regular season tied with Lincoln Park (8-2). Union (6-4, 12-8) comes in third place followed by Monaca (5-5). All four earned Class A playoff berths.
“It’s another step,” said Corey, before the team headed back to Neshannock to cut down nets. “(Getting a section title) was one of our goals and we have some more goals down the road. We just have to take one game at a time. We just have to stay focused and keep working hard.”
Three straight turnovers caused Union to trail 6-0 in the opening minutes of the game. After finishing the quarter trailing 14-9, the Scotties closed the quarter with a 12-4 run to take a 33-28 lead at the half.
“In the first half we didn’t play very well, but we were getting good looks,” Corey said. “We were getting good shots, but then we missed some layups, so a combination of things factored into it.
“I told them at halftime that I was very happy with how we played that half, but we have to finish. We got guys who light it up from the outside and guys who can finish around the rim. It was just a matter of being patient and I was waiting for that to happen.”
The Scotties caught fire in the third quarter and led by as many as nine (46-37) before Tony Kirkwood and Bobby Nittinger got hot for Neshannock.
“We ran an open offense, let our guys take it to the hoop and made them guard us,” Kirkwood said. “Forcing them to foul us and then going to the line and knocking them down was big for us.”
Kirkwood hit a pair of 3-pointers and Nittinger added a bucket in the closing minute of the third quarter to cut the deficit to 48-46.
“I told them that I wanted focus, fight and confidence for 32 minutes,” Corey said. “We weren’t really there, but they stayed confident and they stayed with it to get the win.”
Kirkwood, who led all scorers with 28 points, scored 11 in the fourth quarter alone. He hit eight straight free throws during the last two minutes of the game.
“I have to credit the other guys around him,” Corey said. “It takes somebody to inbound the ball to him, it takes somebody to set a screen for him. I really thought those other four guys on the floor there in the fourth quarter did a great job screening for him and looking for him to be open.”
The Lancers retook the lead with 6:20 left in the game when Nittinger drained a 3 from the left side of the key to make it 51-50. Nittinger scored 18 points in the game and eight of those points, including a pair of 3s, came in the fourth quarter.
“We just turned up the intensity,” Nittinger said. “We knew we wanted to win the section; it was one of our ultimate goals going into the season. We knew we had a chance for it.”
Eric Bruening followed with 12 points for the Lancers.
“Union’s a good team,” Nittinger said. “They can run the fast break real well and they’re a playoff team, so we know if we can beat them we can go into the playoffs strong.”
Jason Burkes led Union with 19 points. Matt Ault followed with 12 and Nick DeCesare chipped in with 10.
“They played better,” Union coach Dave Smialowski said. “I don’t have much else to say. They played better.
“You always want to win, but it just didn’t happen.”