Lancers outlast Scotties
Neshannock (58) Vs. Union (54)
By DAN IRWIN
This time, Union was ready for Bobby Nittinger.
The Neshannock High senior had poured in 37 points last month to lift Neshannock over the Scotties in the two teams’ first WPIAL Section 1-A matchup.
In last night’s rematch at Union, the Scotties limited Nittinger — who was averaging 19.9 ppg. — to just nine markers. Led by senior Joey Fontana, though, the remaining Lancers’ put together a balanced attack that helped Neshannock post a 58-54 triumph.
The win preserved the Lancers’ hopes of getting at least a share of the section crown. Neshannock (5-1, 14-6) plays host to Monaca (1-6, 4-15) at 5:30 p.m. today, then travels to league-leading Lincoln Park (7-0, 14-6) for the season finale at 7:30 p.m. Monday.
Fontana keyed the Lancers last night with 13 points, including a pair of free throws with 15 seconds left that put Neshannock up by five, virtually sealing the win.
John Sansone contributed 12 points, while C.J. VanEman, Brandon Marinelli and Eric Bruening all had eight.
Although he stands four inches shorter than the 6-foot-4 Nittinger, Union’s Devonta Thomas was assigned to serve as his shadow — and did a yeoman’s job.
“They were guarding Bob (Nittinger) pretty tight so someone had to step up,” Fontana said. “We all did.”
That didn’t surprise head coach John Corey.
“We knew they were going to come out and try to deny Bobby the basketball,” he said. “As a staff we’ve emphasized that we have six good basketball players, and if they’re going to take out Bobby or they’re going to take out John Sansone, then the rest of them have to step up and be very aggressive.”
For the Lancers, the hot hand was like a hot potato that got tossed around all night.
Sansone, for instance, hit back-to-back treys in the second period to snap a 20-all tie, then opened the third quarter with a steal and a layup to give Neshannock a four-point advantage.
With the Scotties (3-4, 13-5) holding a 43-42 lead going into the final frame, VanEman scored six points in a 12-2 run that put the Lancers ahead to stay at 54-45.
And after Devonta Thomas drove the hoop to cut the deficit to 55-52 with 21 seconds remaining, Fontana stepped to the free throw line six ticks later and drained two clutch foul shots.
Not bad for a guy who’d gone just 1 of 9 from the stripe up until that point.
“I forgot about the last ones,” Fontana said. “I just had to knock those down. I wasn’t even thinking about the other ones.”
Sansone sank one more free throw with seven seconds remaining and Anthony Thomas, Devonta’s brother, added a slam at the buzzer to round out the scoring.
Speaking of Thomas, he — like Nittinger — also was held to a season-low, scoring just 14 points after entering the game with a 27.6 ppg. average.
Also like Nittinger, Thomas’ teammates took up the slack. Damian Trott contributed 13 points, Nate Major had 12 and Devonta Thomas came up with 10.
The Scotties, though, battled shooting woes throughout the night, sinking just 23 of 70 shots from the field for 32.9 percent. With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, the problem only intensified, with Union going 5 of 25.
Afterward, Union head coach Dave Smialowski declined to comment.
Neshannock didn’t shoot particulary well, either, with a 10-of-23 night from the line and a 22-of-60 performances (36.7 percent) from the field. However, the Lancers helped offset that with a strong effort on the boards. Unofficially, they outrebounded Union 55-46, with Bruening snaring 15 caroms and Fontana nabbing 11.
“I told our guys that (rebounding) was a key to the game,” Corey said. “We look to attack the rim. We didn’t shoot as well as we wanted, but neither did they.
“It just came down to those other little things that pull out the W.”