Lancers hold off Shenango, qualify for playoffs
Neshannock (55) Vs. Shenango (52)

The late-season revival is complete for the Neshannock High boys basketball team.

Meanwhile, Shenango is still trying to avoid a complete meltdown.

The Lancers buried 10 of their 15 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter to hold off the Wildcats, 55-52, in a WPIAL Section 2-AA encounter at Shenango’s packed gym. It’s the fifth straight victory for Neshannock, three in section play.

The victory propels the Lancers (5-6 section, 10-10 overall) into the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2004.

“We knew it was possible and we knew we would have to play hard,” Lancers coach Jim Smiley said. “You have to expect to win to be able to win.

“I told our kids to not only expect to win, but deserve to win and they responded.”

Shenango (4-7, 12-10) still has hope. The Wildcats can qualify for the postseason if they beat Laurel on Friday in the section finale and Summit Academy knocks off Neshannock.

“That’s the hand we’re dealt right now,” Wildcats coach Bob McQuiston said. “We have to take it and hold up our end and then hope Summit Academy wins.”

Neshannock was 2-4 in the first half of section play and opened the second half with a 64-35 loss to section-leading Riverside on the road.

“The Riverside game was the turning point,” Smiley said. “I have a reputation for being a hard-nosed coach, but I’ve mellowed so much through the years; but you can’t get any lower than that.

“We weren’t even competitive so we went right back to the drawing board. We needed an attitude adjustment and we’ve responded.”

Shenango has taken a different path. The Wildcats were 5-3 at one point with the playoffs on their horizon. Now the two-time defending section champions are in a fight to advance.

Leading 53-52, Neshannock’s Mike Conglose missed a pair of foul shots with 21.5 seconds remaining and Shenango raced the other way. Rich Gaston was whistled for a traveling violation with 8.3 seconds left to give the Lancers possession.

Bobby Nittinger, who led the Lnacers with 13 points, calmly sank two free throws with 7.8 seconds to play for a 55-52 advantage. The Wildcats pushed the ball up the floor and Bryan Chieze launched a 3-pointer that was long.

“I didn’t want to let my teammates down,” Nittinger said. “The free throws were big and I want to hit the big shots.”

Said Smiley, “Bobby picked up Mike. It’s part of playing as a team.”

Nittinger chased down the rebound and ran out the clock, setting off a wild celebration by the Neshannock faithful.

“I saw the shot and it looked like it was going long,” Nittinger said. “It hit off the rim and headed up the middle and I just grabbed it and started to run.”

“We got an OK look at it, it just didn’t fall,” McQuiston said.

Chieze finished with 14 points and Mike Murcko added 10.

Nittinger, who handed out five assists, gave the Lancers the lead for good, 39-38, on a 3-pointer with 1:11 left in the third quarter. The ball hit the front of the rim and bounced upo and through the hoop.

Shenango raced to a 22-12 lead after the first quarter and stretched it to 26-12 with 6:14 remaining in the opening half. Rich Gaston got 14 of his game-high 21 points in the first half, eight in the first frame.

“I thought Gaston played well,” McQuiston said. “He did well at posting up strong and finishing.

“I thought we could have gone to him a little bit more in the second half.”

Smiley had the right solution to get his team back in the game as the Lancers rallied with a 12-4 run to close the half and get within 30-24 at the break.

“We play full court all the time,” Smiley said. “We made a subtle change and extended it even further with more heat.

“We wanted the game to go up and down the floor; we felt if we could do that, it would negate their size.”

Conglose had 11 markers for the winners while Michael Richards and Bryce Kauffman scored 10 apiece. Conglose grabbed six rebounds and Richards came up with four assists and three steals.
Game Scoreboard
Neshannock 55 0 0 0 0 55
Shenango 52 0 0 0 0 52
Box Scores
Field Goals Attempted Foul Shots Made Foul Shots Three Points Total Points Fouls
#33 Bobby Nittinger2981130
#20 Bryce Kauffman4320100
#2 Joey Fontana020000
#3 J.T. Graham000000
#22 Mike Conglose4621110
#23 Michael Richards4211100
#44 Ryan Iorio022020
#21 Tony Kirkwood187090
Brian Chieze5640140
Rich Gaston9730210
Jesse Noca100020
Andrew Watson120130
Rick Ferrari000000
Ryan Tanner100020
Mike Murcko4320100
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