Neshannock can’t overcome Kirkwood ejection, Serra
Serra Catholic (88) Vs. Neshannock (74)

PITTSBURGH — A range of emotions filled the Neshannock High boys basketball locker room last night at Northgate High School.

The Lancers were disappointed, frustrated and angry following Serra Catholic’s 88-74 WPIAL Class A semifinal triumph.

With their best player ejected 11 seconds before halftime, the Lancers refused to fold. And despite being torched for 50 points by the Eagles’ T.J. Heatherington, Neshannock trailed by only eight with three minutes to play.

Despite the loss, Neshannock (17-7) advances to the PIAA tournament, which begins March 6. But the Lancers will be without Tony Kirkwood.

Kirkwood and Serra’s Rob Heatherington must sit out their next games after an incident resulted in their ejections last night. PIAA rules mandate an automatic one-game suspension following an ejection.

Serra Catholic (21-2) will defend its WPIAL crown against Sewickley Academy, a 55-47 winner over Clairton, Friday night at Duquesne University’s A.J. Palumbo Center.

Things got out of hand last night when Rob Heatherington drove to the basket, but lost his footing. He tumbled to the court, knocking Kirkwood, who was defending him, to the floor. When Kirkwood got up, he became tangled with his opponent and fell back to the court. Following a scrum between the two, Rob Heatherington threw a punch and, according to officials, Kirkwood retaliated.

Rob Heatheringon lay motionless on the court for a few moments while trainers attended to him. He jumped up and attempted to go after Kirkwood before he was restrained by police officers.

Two adult Neshannock fans were ejected from the game for unsportsmanlike conduct before play resumed.

“The ref told me that Rob Heatherington punched Tony and Tony retaliated. It’s not really what I saw, but that’s how it was explained to me,” Neshannock coach John Corey said. “It’s obviously a letdown losing him. Tony is our guy ... to lose him in a game of this caliber, definitely hurt.”

T.J. Heatherington, Rob’s older brother, picked up the slack for the Eagles, scoring 36 of his 50 points in the second half. “T.J. is a good basketball player and we couldn’t stop him,” Corey said.

Neshannock, which trailed 36-27 at halftime, hung in despite losing Kirkwood. The Lancers were down by seven, 55-48, heading into the fourth quarter.

“That alone speaks volumes for how well we played,” Corey said. “Serra has been blowing teams out by 30 and 40 points. To have it going into the fourth quarter only down seven, I am proud of our effort.”

Bobby Nittinger elevated his game in the second half as he scored 21 of his team-high 28 points to help Neshannock stay close.

“Bobby stepped up. He is a great competitor and you could see the fire in his eyes; he was very motivated when Tony went out,” Corey said. “These guys were really trying to get this game, in a lot of reasons, for Tony.”

The Lancers trailed, 71-63, with 3:09 to go, but were unable to close the gap.

“Tony is our best player, our leader and our point guard, so someone needed to step up and Coach Corey told me to go out there and be a leader. I tried to step up and carry the team, but it wasn’t enough,” Nittinger said. “We were just going to keep fighting. We didn’t come here to play close – we came here to win. Every time we got close, we wanted to get the lead, but it just didn’t happen.”

Joey Fontana had 14 points for Neshannock. Kirkwood had eight before being ejected. Stephen Perrott, Chris Graziani and Brandon Marinelli all had six points off the bench.

“To score 47 points in the second half against that team without our leading scorer, definitely, these other guys stepped up,” Corey said. “The goal now is to win this first [PIAA game] so we can see No. 21 back in uniform.”

The Lancers will have extra motivation going into the PIAA tournament. Neshannock will either be the WPIAL’s third or fourth seed depending upon whether Serra Catholic wins the championship game.

“We’re going to keep working hard,” he said. “We’re going to come out pretty fired up for the next game. We’ll play as hard as we can to keep our season alive.”
Game Scoreboard
Serra Catholic 19 17 19 33 0 88
Neshannock 16 11 21 26 0 74
Box Scores
Bobby Nittinger 9 6-7 28
Joey Fontana 6 2-5 14
Eric Bruening 2 0-2 4
Bryce Kauffman 1 0-0 2
Tony Kirkwood 1 5-7 8
Stephen Perrott 3 0-0 6
Chris Graziani 3 0-1 6
Brandon Fischer 0 0-0 0
Brandon Marinelli 2 2-4 6.
Totals: 27 15-26 74.

Rob Heatherington 6 1-2 14
T.J. Heatherington 18 13-18 50
Eric Jurofcic 3 0-1 6
Alex Matta 1 4-4 6
Dave Menzies 3 3-4 9
Evan Sargo 0 0-0 0
A.J. Merzlak 1 0-0 3
Matt Loftis 0 0-0 0.
Totals: 32 21-29 88.

NESHANNOCK 16 11 21 26 — 74
SERRA CATH. 19 17 19 33 — 88

3-point goals — Neshannock 5 (Nittinger 4, Kirkwood 1), Serra 3 (R. Heatheringon 1, T. Heatherington 1, Merzlak 1) .

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