'Chaq Attack' ends Neshannock's season
Lincoln Park (70) Vs. Neshannock (53)
By JOE SAGER
BRIDGEVILLE — The Neshannock High boys basketball team experienced another “Chaq attack” on March 19.
Lincoln Park star Chaquille Pratt tallied a game-high 33 points to lead the Leopards past the Lancers, 70-53, in a PIAA Class A quarterfinal game at Chartiers Valley High School.
Pratt, a 6-foot-3 junior guard, tallied 24 of his points in the final two quarters to help Lincoln Park (21-7) earn the win and a berth in the semifinals, where it will face Sewickley Academy (25-2), a 66-44 winner over Tussey Mountain, on Tuesday. The Leopards are seeking revenge for a 49-48 loss to the Panthers in the WPIAL title tilt.
“Chaq is a man among boys sometimes — or maybe all the time,” Lincoln Park coach Mark Javens said. “We kind of thought Sewickley would win, but we couldn’t worry about that because we had a pretty tough task at hand — Neshannock is no cakewalk, that’s for sure.”
Neshannock (18-9) was familiar with Pratt before last night. He faced the Lancers twice in Section 1-A competition and racked up 29 points against them in a 69-64 win on Jan. 15. He added 35 more points in a 78-62 triumph over the locals to close section play on Feb. 15.
“He’s a good player who has gotten a lot better probably the last eight games. He’s really turned into a phenomenal player,” Neshannock coach John Corey said. “We knew he was going to get his. The number that we had kind of talked about was 22. After that first half, it looked like that might be something we could stick to. But, every time they needed a bucket, it seemed like he got one.”
Neshannock put itself in a hole early in the contest. After Bobby Nittinger’s 3-pointer gave the Lancers a 3-2 lead 48 seconds into the clash, the locals struggled to find the hoop. By the time Nittinger canned another triple to break the team’s scoreless drought with 1:14 left in the period, Lincoln Park had established a 16-3 lead.
“I thought we had a lot of good looks, but it just seemed like we couldn’t get shots to fall,” Corey said.
The Leopards’ lead increased to 15 points, 21-6, to start the second, but Neshannock trimmed that margin to 26-16 at halftime. Corey’s troops continued to march back and made it a 36-31 game on Brandon Marinelli’s hoop with 2:34 remaining in the third.
However, Pratt sparked Lincoln Park on a 13-2 run. He scored nine points in the spree to give his squad a 49-33 edge.
“At one point, it was down to five and, immediately, they go on a little run. The frustrating thing about that run they went on is that we had some opportunities,” Corey said. “As a coach, I kept thinking I wanted to take a timeout, but then we’d come up with a steal and then go down and miss a layup or a jump shot. It seemed like we could never get a stop on that run. I think part of it was we worked so hard to get it to five. We exerted so much effort.
“We did a good job getting to the rim. But, when you start trading buckets, that’s never good against a team that’s as talented as Lincoln Park,” he continued. “We were busting our tails on one end, executing and getting to the rim. Then, we’d just give them layups at the other end.”
A 7-0 outburst put the Lancers within reach, 49-40, with 7:44 remaining in the contest. Once again, Pratt took charge and scored the six of the Leopards’ next seven points as they opened a 56-40 lead with 5:46 to go.
“We got a lot better guard play,” Javens said. “I knew if we got better guard play, we’d be tough to beat. I know they attacked the rim a couple times, but we were going the other way, too.”
Devontae Watson added 13 points for Lincoln Park.
Nittinger paced Neshannock with 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Marinelli had 16 points and six rebounds and C.J. VanEman added 11 points. The Lancers graduate seniors Eric Bruening, Joey Fontana, VanEman and Nittinger.
“That speech at the end of the game is always difficult. It was extremely difficult with these guys,” Corey said. “It’s such a phenomenal group of young men. It’s been a pleasure to coach them. I want to thank them for everything they’ve done for me the past two years. Those four seniors have had a great two years and they’ve done so much for Neshannock basketball. It was an honor to coach them.
“It’s going to be a very, very crucial offseason for us. A lot of these seniors played a lot last year, so they are two-year starters,” he continued. “To replace them is going to be a big feat. We just have to get to work and fill a lot of holes. Hopefully, we can get that done.”
As for Javens, he looks forward to the upcoming Sewickley Academy challenge.
“We’ll have our kids ready,” he said. “Everybody is talking about the second half we put together against them the last time we played them, but you have to put two halves together. They are going to be ready, too, so it will be a good matchup.”