Neshannock pulls away from Scotties
Neshannock (76) Vs. Union (66)
By DAN IRWIN
Tony Kirkwood was right where Union wanted him — on the bench.
After scoring 40 points in Neshannock’s tournament win last month over the Scotties, the Lancers’ senior guard picked up two fouls early in last night’s WPIAL Section 1-A rematch at Neshannock. Kirkwood, who was averaging 20.6 points per game, watched much of the first two periods from the pine and had just six points at halftime.
But when a couple of other Lancers stepped up, a key Scottie sat down and Union found itself unable to make some crucial buckets down the stretch, Neshannock prevailed again, 76-66.
In the teams’ first meeting, Kirkwood was the only Lancer to reach double figures. He came back strong in the second half last night to finish with 29, but this time he had some company. Bobby Nittinger contributed 17 points — including three 3-pointers — and Joey Fontana added 12.
Fontana and Eric Bruening also nabbed seven rebounds each.
“The one thing I think we have over a lot of our competition is a deep bench,” Neshannock head coach John Corey said.
“Obviously, losing a player of (Kirkwood’s) caliber for a couple minutes or the end of the quarter, it’s going to affect you, but I’ve got a lot of confidence in the guys coming off the bench.”
Anthony Thomas and Jason Burkes keyed Union (3-2, 8-6) with 18 and 15 points, respectively, but like Kirkwood, Thomas also collected two personal fouls while the night was still young.
“We couldn’t take advantage of Kirkwood being out, but part of it was that Anthony Thomas had two (fouls) on him, so he sat most of that time also,” Union head coach Dave Smialowski noted. “He runs our offense; he’s as important to us as Kirkwood is to them.”
Still, Union hung close to the Lancers (9-4, 4-1), and reeled off a 10-3 run during the final three minutes of the half to trail by just one point, 30-29, at intermission.
Kirkwood, who had Neshannock’s only points during that time, added 10 more in the third period to help the Lancers build a 54-43 lead with a minute left in the stanza.
Union battled back to narrow the gap to 66-63 on Burkes’ lone 3-pointer of the night with 2:08 remaining. Moments later, the Scotties got a chance to pull even when Thomas tied up Kirkwood in the key with the possession light pointing Union’s way.
However, Nick DeCesare missed the mark on 3-point attempt at the other end, and Neshannock closed the game with a 10-3 run, all from the foul line.
“Our kids played hard, but we make mental mistakes,” Smialowski said. “We get to one basket, then we just can’t get over the hump. That happened in the last game, too. We get to one bucket, then we make mistakes.
“I told the kids to be a good team, we have to clean that up. We’ll work on it.”
For the Lancers, the charity stripe proved to be just as important the second time around against Union. Neshannock drained 32-of-45 free throws last month, and 22-of-27 last night.
“We talked about protecting the basketball and drawing fouls, and down the stretch, we really did a great job from the free throw line,” Corey said. “At the start of the season, we were shooting in 40 and 50 percent the first couple of games. It just wasn’t consistent.
“That’s something that we just have to keep working on.”
•Last night’s Neshannock-Union game was the centerpiece of a fundraiser called “Coaches vs. Cancer.”
•The night featured a silent auction, with a one-week Myrtle Beach getaway as the top item on the block.
•By night’s end, more than $10,500 was raised for the fight against cancer.
•Organizers also named a Player of the Game from each team. The winners were Tony Kirkwood (Neshannock) and Anthony Thomas (Union).