Sewickley Academy ousts Lancers
Neshannock (36) Vs. Sewickley (70)
By JOE SAGER
AMBRIDGE — Sewickley Academy’s Tom Droney is a talented offensive basketball player.
Among the WPIAL’s top scorers the past couple seasons, his aptitude with the basketball earned him a scholarship to NCAA Division-I Davidson College.
However, he proved he’s pretty good on defense, too, last night as he and the Panthers put the clamps on Neshannock in a 70-36 WPIAL Class A quarterfinal triumph at Ambridge High School.
Droney, a smooth 6-foot-6 guard, proved he could score at will. He outscored the Lancers at halftime, 19-13, and he wound up with a game-high 27 points. Yet, his lockdown defense on Neshannock ace Bobby Nittinger is what fueled Sewickley Academy’s rout. He limited Nittinger to just two points — a first-quarter field goal.
That represented the lowest point total of the season for Nittinger, who led the Lancers at 19.8 points per game entering the clash. It was the second time this season he was limited to less than 10 points. The other came in a 58-54 win over Union on Feb. 12 when he finished with nine tallies.
“Everyone has been talking about Tom Droney, this and that, and he averages 23 points per game. There are other guys in the area averaging more, but people don’t understand — I believe he is the best player in the area,” Sewickley Academy coach Win Palmer said. “The guy plays defense. That’s not a knock on anyone else, but he plays defense. That’s what he worked on, but that’s what the Davidson coach told him he needed to do to be a better player in college and he’s taken that to heart and he plays some defense.
“We could have him going out there and scoring 35 points per game and doing all those sorts of things, but we don’t because what he does for us means so much more. Anyone who was here saw that because Bobby Nittinger is a really good player and Tom has really improved his defense.”
The Lancers (16-8) struggled all around to generate offense against the Panthers (20-2). They trailed 20-5 at the end of the first and 45-13 at halftime. Brandon Marinelli was the only local to reach double figures as he tallied 16 points off the bench.
“From Day 1, these guys have bought into playing defense. We knew Neshannock was a very good offensive team. Fortunately, we’ve played teams similar to them, like South Fayette and some others, so we had some points that we made. I didn’t expect the game to be like this,” Palmer said. “I knew we’d play good defense, but I had no idea it’d be like this. Fortunately, offensively, we did some nice things and I think that helped our defense.”
Top-seeded Sewickley Academy, last year’s WPIAL champ, moves on to face Cornell, a 50-44 winner over Clairton, in Tuesday’s semifinals at a time and site to be determined by the WPIAL. Neshannock coach John Corey is convinced the Panthers will defend their championship this year.
“I have a hard time seeing that anyone is going to beat them. I just think it would take an absolutely perfect game from someone. At no point were we ever in the basketball game. It’s very frustrating,” he said. “It’s the same group last year and we saw them in person last year a lot. We watched three or four films on them this year. On film, they look like a very good team. In person, they look like an extremely good team.”
Actually, the Lancers are rooting for Sewickley Academy to win WPIAL gold. If that happens, that makes Neshannock the WPIAL’s fifth seed and qualifies the Lancers for the PIAA tournament. If the Panthers lose Tuesday or in the championship game, Neshannock’s season is done as the PIAA only welcomes the top five WPIAL teams to its Class AA tournament.
“I explained to the guys that it’s a very awkward situation. I told them the team that just steamrolled you, you have to become their biggest fans,” Corey said. “I truly hope Sewickley wins, not because I am a Sewickley fan, but because I am a big fan of the seniors we have.
“It’s such a terrific group of seniors and I definitely want to see them have the opportunity to put those uniforms on again because, if there’s any group of seniors that deserve another chance, it’s them.”