Neshannock tops Ellwood in wild OT battle
Ellwood City (51) Vs. Neshannock (56)
By JOE SIMON
They don’t get much better than this one.
Neshannock versus Ellwood City had it all: last-second shots, controversial calls, face-to-face confrontations, players diving for loose balls, student sections trading jabs ... heck, even the cheerleaders were competitive, seeing who could do the most back handsprings or flips during timeouts.
It was high school basketball at its best.
And luckily for the crowd, it had overtime, too.
Neshannock made a few more plays down the stretch and won a wild, WPIAL Section 2-AA opener, 56-51, last night.
“We knew that the minute that basketball went up, it was going to be a battle,” Neshannock coach John Corey said. “We talked to our guys a lot about how it was going to be a grind for 32 minutes with these guys. Ellwood City, they just play so hard. We knew we had to come out and try and match their effort and beat them to a couple loose balls here and there.
“It was just a great high school basketball game.”
One of those who helped make it great was Neshannock’s Nick Graziani. The senior forward had a team-high 12 rebounds and scored 17 points, including five in overtime to lead the Lancers (1-0 section, 3-0 overall). With his team up by one late in the extra session, he used a nifty spin move to get by a defender and hit a layup, giving Neshannock a 54-51 lead. He was all over the glass throughout the game and gave the Lancers several second-chance opportunities.
“Coach just said to box out and get rebounds, so that’s what I did,” said the 6-foot-4 Graziani. “That’s what my job is this year, to get rebounds. I’m probably going to be the tallest one out there, so I have to play my role and get rebounds.
“It was a big rivalry. They’re really tough. I have to give them credit, they’re really good.”
Both teams had a chance to win the game in regulation, but a strange sequence of events resulted in three straight turnovers. The Wolverines (0-1, 1-2) had the ball with nine seconds remaining and the game tied when Ryan Horgan was called for traveling on a jump shot with 4.2 seconds left. The Lancers’ ensuing inbounds pass was thrown deep down the court and was intercepted. Ellwood City’s Gino Ceriani received a pass up court, but he just missed an off-balance jumper as time expired.
Ceriani scored a team-best 16 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out three assists. He did have an inbounds pass intercepted with about 40 seconds left that allowed Neshannock to tie the game, but otherwise he played very well for the Wolverines. The biggest problems for Ellwood City were free throws and turnovers. The Wolverines finished 6 of 17 from the line and committed 16 turnovers compared to nine by the Lancers.
“Free-throw shooting really hurt us bad,” Ellwood City coach Al Campman said. “And our kids are going to have to begin to understand the word poise. Poise is a big part of the game — not turning the ball over in key situations.”
The Lancers took advantage of the turnover by Ceriani as Brandon Marinelli made two free throws to tie the game at 45. That set up the walk by Horgan, who had 14 points, and the long inbounds pass stolen by Ellwood City. Neshannock’s John Sansone was another key player, scoring a game-high 18 points, including four in overtime. He hit a fade-away jumper with a man in his face to give the Lancers their first lead in the extra frame. Neshannock put the game away with two more free throws by Marinelli that pushed the lead to five with three seconds left.
“The big thing for us, in moving up from single A to double A, is that every night it’s going to be a grind,” said Corey, whose team is in its first year in Class AA. “These teams in the county, they all play very physical, they all play hard, so we have to be ready.”
They seemed prepared on defense as neither team shot very well from the field and both struggled to find an offensive rhythm. The coaches agreed that was more because of defensive intensity than offensive mishaps.
“We wanted to try and steal one on the road, and it just didn’t happen,” Campman said. “We’re getting better, but we’re nowhere near where we need to be. We have to be a better team, consistently. We’ll look good for two minutes, then we’ll lose it. Our offensive continuity has to come around.”