Neshannock topples DuBois Central Catholic
Neshannock (63) Vs. DuBois (50)
By TODD KRISE
CLARION — Upset?
The Neshannock High boys basketball team might have been the underdog against District 9 champion DuBois Central Catholic last night.
But the Lancers didn’t play like it, using their quickness and strength to defeat the Cardinals, 63-50, in the first round of the PIAA Class A tournament at Clarion University’s Tippin Gymnasium.
“We do like being the underdog,” said Bobby Nittinger, who led four Neshannock players in double figures with 16 points. “We like having everyone doubting us.”
Joey Fontana netted 15 points, C.J. VanEman scored 14 and John Sansone added 10 to help the Lancers (17-8) earn their first PIAA playoff victory since 2003.
The win came two weeks after Neshannock’s 70-36 loss to Sewickley Academy in the WPIAL quarterfinals. Nittinger called the defeat “embarrassing,” while his coach, John Corey, used it as fuel for Neshannock’s fire.
“We thought we were going to be a little rusty but we just tried to find the positives and figured, ‘Hey, we’re rested,’ ” Nittinger said. “It definitely helped us tonight because they are a very deep team.”
Added Corey, “Our motivation was pretty much the last time we put our uniforms on, nobody enjoyed that night against Sewickley Academy. To have the opportunity to come out and get that taste out of our mouths was terrific.”
Neshannock will play Tuesday against Conemaugh Valley (23-3), a 67-33 winner over Linesville, in the second round at a time and site to be announced.
DuBois Central Catholic (21-6) appeared caught off guard by the Lancers’ speed in the first quarter, but quickly adjusted and took a 19-18 lead at the beginning of the second quarter.
Nittinger, who failed to score in the first frame, began an 11-0 run with a 3-pointer and finished it with a jumper from the corner. Sansone followed Nittinger’s trey with one of his own and Fontana connected on a three-point play to give Neshannock a 29-19 lead.
Fontana, a senior guard, was playing with a heavy heart last night. His grandmother, Carol, passed away on Wednesday. The Lancers dedicated the win in her memory.
“I knew my grandma wanted me to play,” he said, “so I had to go out and do it for her.”
The Cardinals, who were playing without point guard Brad Gallagher, made things interesting in the third period, taking a 43-41 advantage.
Center Chris Marshall scored four of his team-high 17 points in the quarter.
However, Gallagher’s presence was severely missed when the Lancers employed their suffocating man-to-man press late in the game.
Neshannock forced a majority of DuBois Central Catholic’s 12 turnovers in the fourth frame, allowing them to pull away.
The Lancers’ Eric Bruening connected on two key layups with 2:24 left in the game to give Neshannock a seven-point lead. From there, Fontana sank two free throws and VanEman contributed a backbreaking layup for an 11-point buffer.
“These guys really bust their tails when we ask them to get into that run-and-gun trap,” Corey said. “I just can’t say enough about how hard our guys dug in.”
Cardinals coach Mike Nesbit roamed the sidelines for a second game since the car accident his daughter, Lauren, was involved with last week.
Nesbit said Lauren, who has several broken ribs, is doing much better and should be released from the hospital in the next two or three days.
“I thanked my players for what they’ve done for me in winning the district championship,” Nesbit said. “Our seniors have been incredible.
“What it all came down to was the press. That won the game for them. We turned the ball over and they got some easy buckets off of it. We just never recovered.”