Laurel tops Monessen on buzzer-beater
Laurel (45) Vs. Monessen (44)

IMPERIAL — Sometimes, luck just happens.

However, the Laurel High boys basketball team “created” good fortune Saturday night with its hustle and determination.

As a result, Mike Natale’s last-second shot lifted the Spartans to a thrilling 45-44 triumph over Monessen in a WPIAL Class AA preliminary-round game at West Allegheny High School.

With six-tenths of a second on the clock and facing a 44-43 deficit, Natale deflected Jeff Francia’s inbounds pass under the Monessen basket and, in one motion, grabbed the ball and put it up just before the buzzer. Everyone watched in awe as the ball bounced on the rim three times before falling through the cylinder to seal Laurel’s victory.

“I couldn’t believe it. It was amazing,” Natale said. “(Francia) passed it in and I tipped it and the ball just sat in front of me, so I just threw it up and it went in — just enough time to go in.”

Natale’s game-winning hoop capped off a furious rally for the Spartans (13-7), who move on to face South Fayette (17-4) at 8 p.m. Wednesday at West Allegheny. Laurel faced a 14-point deficit, 37-23, with 1:31 to play in the third quarter. Undaunted, the Spartans stormed back.

“There’s no doubt Monessen is a great team. But, I am very proud of how our kids never quit,” Laurel coach Mike Tinstman sad. “The kids just kept playing and they believed. There’s no doubt we got lucky there, but, sometimes, you need luck to win a ballgame and I’ll take it. The kids gave everything they could to me and I couldn’t ask for anything more. We’re fortunate we won.

“Whether we would have won or lost, the fact that we played hard and never quit — that’s probably the best part of it. Hopefully, we’ll be ready for Wednesday.”

The Greyhounds (16-5) came out hot and hit their first three shots — all 3-pointers — to post a 9-0 lead in the first 2:16. The Spartans cut the deficit to 14-7 at the end of the first quarter and trailed, 25-16, at halftime.

Foul trouble continued to plague Laurel in the third quarter as Jake Dando and Natale both picked up their fourth personal fouls and Monessen built its lead to a game-best 14 points with 1:31 remaining in the third.

Chad Long swished two free throws and Todd Fennick drained a 3-pointer to give the Spartans some momentum and cut their deficit to 37-28 at the buzzer.

Laurel kept it up in the fourth with a 10-0 run to grab a 38-37 lead with 4:17 to play. Dando had a pair of free throws and a layup in the charge, while Eric Wallas swished a 3-pointer and Shane Caldararo added a layup and a free throw.

“We had a nice run and they called a timeout, so that got us pumped up. We had some fans here and it was nice and loud for us; it felt good,” Natale said. “It’s extremely nice to be moving on. Coach Tinstman always tells us that, no matter what, if you’re down or if you’re up, you can’t quit; you have to play hard and smart the whole game and if there is time left on the clock, you can win.”

Both sides battled over the next 4:17. The Spartans grabbed a 41-38 lead with 2:40 to go, but Monessen came back and seized a 43-41 edge with 35.7 seconds remaining. Dando’s bucket tied it at 43-all with 17 seconds on the clock.

With 9 seconds left, the Greyhounds posted a 44-43 lead when Jalen Madison split a pair of free throws. Things looked bleak for the Spartans as they threw the ball away down the floor on their next possession as they set up for a shot, giving Monessen the ball under its hoop with 0.6 seconds on the clock.

Before the Greyhounds could inbound the ball, Laurel was whistled for an intentional foul away from the play. However, Cam Johnson bricked both attempts and Monessen had to inbound once again under its hoop with 0.6 showing on the clock.

Instead of firing the ball down the court and hoping time would expire once it landed in play, the Greyhounds elected to inbound the ball underneath the basket. Natale was able to deflect it and the ball bounced directly in front of him, which allowed him to grab it and get off the winning shot.

“Sometimes, you have to be a little lucky to get a win like this, but we’ll take it because the kids played very hard. The fact that they didn’t quit is what I am happiest about,” Tinstman said. “We fought. We knew that the difference in the ballgame — a lot of it was the passing. I give credit to Monessen because we knew they were aggressive and they were denying the passing. We probably gave them 10 points on turnovers. We knew if we could take that away we’d be in the ballgame with them. I think, in the end, we didn’t make the mistakes we made in the first half and the beginning of the third. I am very proud of our guys.”

Caldararo and Dando both had 12 points to lead Laurel. Long finished with eight, while Fennick swished a pair of 3-pointers off the bench.

Madison led Monessen with a game-high 13 points.
Game Scoreboard
Laurel 7 9 12 17 0 45
Monessen 14 11 12 7 0 44
Box Scores
Shane Caldararo 4 4-7 12
Eric Wallas 2 0-0 5
Jake Dando 4 3-4 12
Mike Natale 1 0-1 2
Chad Long 2 4-5 8
Todd Fennick 2 0-0 6
Ryan Melichar 0 0-0 0
Richard Jones 0 0-0 0.
Totals: 14 11-17 45.

Cam Johnson 0 1-6 1
Earl Pinkney 1 0-1 3
Jalen Madison 5 2-4 13
Jeff Francia 2 1-2 7
Nick Bolias 2 0-0 4
Jaisen Irwin 3 1-2 7
Alonzo Payne 2 0-0 4
Trae Cook 1 0-0 3
Josh Chaussinand 1 0-2 2.
Totals: 17 5-17 44.

LAUREL 7 9 12 17 — 45
MONESSEN 14 11 12 7 — 44
3-point goals — Laurel 4 (Fennick 2, Wallas 1, Dando 1); Monessen 5 (Francia 2, Pinkney 1, Madison 1, Cook 1).

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