Lancers’ ‘script’ ends much to their liking
February 25, 2011
New Castle News

(This story is reprinted from the March 9, 1987, edition of the New Castle News.)

PITTSBURGH — Jim Smiley loves happy endings. But he could live with a few less plot twists.

“I’m sure, if you could have written a script, that’s the way you would have wanted it to end,” Smiley said after his Neshannock High basketball team had outlasted Monessen 81-80 in triple overtime, capturing the WPIAL Class A championship at the University of Pittsburgh’s Fitzgerald Field Houser here Saturday.

“But I’ll tell you what, I’m getting tired of these scripts (Neshannock’s quarterfinal and semifinal round playoff wins were also decided in overtime.) Let me sit on the bench and relax a little bit. There’s a lot of great basketball being played, but as a coach, I can’t really enjoy it.”

Indeed, the Lancers (21-2) and the Greyhounds (17-7) put on the finest exhibition of the eight-game WPIAL championship weekend at Pitt, with each team building and then losing a double-digit lead before senior Bryan DeLorenzo ended it all by converting an offensive rebound with four seconds left in overtime No. 3. Still, Monessen’s Russell Tyree nearly sent the game into a fourth extra stanza when his half-court shot with one second left drew iron, but failed to fall.

Bob Kwiat, a 6-foot-5 senior, sparked Neshannock with 31 points, including a bucket he buried from 19 feet out just as the buzzer sounded to end the first overtime. Ed Covert, a 6-1 senior, added 24 more points, while 5-9 junior Ricci LaRocco scored 11.
Foul trouble played a major role for both teams, beginning with the Greyhounds. Tyree, a 5-foot-11 sophomore who sliced gaping holes in Neshannock’s 2-3 zone en route to a 24-point performance, picked up his third personal at the end of the first quarter. He joined 6-5 junior Russell Bright (18 points), who had been assessed his third foul earlier in the period.

With that pair forced to mind their P’s and Q’s, Neshannock rallied from a 15-5 deficit in the final minute of the first quarter to take a 19-15 lead with 6:17 left in the second.

“We were in foul trouble early in the game, but the people we put out there did a good job to keep us within reach,” Monessen head coach JoJo Salvino said.

“But what it (the foul trouble) did do was to force us out of our man defense. That was working real well for us early, but with us in foul trouble and some people that didn’t match up too well, we had to sink in a zone. They ended up getting a lot of points off that, from the corners and stuff.”

Once back in the game, the Lancers stayed there. They led 31-30 at the half, and opened the third quarter with a 14-2 scoring run that put them up, 45-32. Covert struck for eight of his tallies to key the uprising.

Slowly, though, foul trouble began to erode the effectiveness of Neshannock’s inside men, each of whom carried four personal fouls into the final quarter.

Brett Grotefend, a 6-1 junior, was the first to pick up his fifth, fouling out with just over 5:30 left in regulation. Then came 6-2 junior Kevin DeLorenzo, who bowed out with 5:11 to go. Lastly, 6-2 junior Mike Pakovitch, who made his exit with 3:17 remaining.

And while all that was transpiring, Monessen rallied from a 57-48 deficit to pull even with the Lancers at 62-all.

“I’m very disappointed,” Smiley said. “I should pack No-Doz in the medicine kit because sometimes, we just seem to fall asleep on the inside. Basically, that’s where we have our younger players.

“But once you’re in foul trouble, what’s your alternative? You can’t go man. But in the last sequence, we did say, ‘the heck with it, we can’t just allow them to just walk in there,’ and we did play them man.

“They did it (penetrated the zone) all day long. We were exchanging a jumpshot for a layup, and when you do that, generally the jump-shooting team loses. First thing on Monday, we’ve got to get on the film and take care of that.”

At that particular moment, however, Monday was the furthest thing from Smiley’s mind. For when Pakovitch fouled out, Smiley was forced to dip into a bench that boasted only one player who had seen post-season action: Brian DeLorenzo, a 6-1 senior who had played sparingly in the Lancers’ quarterfinal round win over Cornell.

DeLorenzo, however, belied that experience when, with 34 seconds left and the scored tied 66-66, he put up a jumper from the foul line that hit the front of the rim, and was rebounded by Bright. Only Tyree’s miss as he drove to the hoop with two seconds left and Covert’s rebound prevented Monessen from going on to take the win in regulation.

DeLorenzo also had a bit of hard luck when, not long after Chad Scott’s tip-in and Kwiat’s layup in overtime extended the deadlock to 68-68, he literally put the skids on a fastbreak by slipping and falling. He was, of course, called for a walking violation, giving Monessen the ball and setting up a baseline jumper by Bright with five seconds to go.

Neshannock, though, quickly called a time out and, four-and-a-half seconds after play resumed, Kwiat nailed his jumper from one step inside the college three-point line to set up overtime No. 2.

That period began with the Lancers streaking to a four-point lead, on buckets by Kwiat and LaRocco. After Tyree had pulled the ’Hounds back to within two, though, he missed a one-on-one free throw with 26 seconds remaining.

Tyree then knocked down a game-tying 14-footer with 17 seconds left, while LaRocco missed a 12-footer at the three-second mark to set up the final overtime.

But as Smiley’s “script” would have it, the two players who had faltered earlier — Brian DeLorenzo and LaRocco — rallied to salt the win away in the final three minutes.

LaRocco countered Bright’s layup off the opening tip by nailing both ends of a bonus situation with 2:11 to go.

Brian Kessler then sandwiched his final two buckets of the game around Kwiat’s 30th and 31st points to put Monessen up 80-78, but LaRocco dropped his first attempt on a two-shot foul with 47 seconds left to bring Neshannock back to within one.

LaRocco also fouled Bright with 30 ticks remaining, but when Bright missed the opening end of his one-and-one, Kwiat grabbed the rebound, and Neshannock pushed it up court for one final run.

LaRocco dribbled around the top of the key, penetrated to the foul line, and launched his shot … only to find nothing but rim. DeLorenzo, though, was all alone under the bucket, and sent the rebound back through the bucket for what proved to be the winning points.

“I was looking for Eddie (Covert), and they were overplaying him,” LaRocco said. “I knew the clock was running down, so I just tried to get up a shot. And Brian just came through.”

DeLorenzo described it similarly.

“They (the Greyhounds) were double-teaming Eddie,” he said. “So Eddie just flew out to the wing, and he took those two with him. Ricci drove the lane, and everybody was on the left side of the court. He got about halfway through the key and he launched up, and everyone just swarmed on him.

“I was the only one left on the other side. Ricci lofted it up, and it rolled off the rim, and I just jumped up and tipped it in.”

Monessen called a time out following the score, but Tyree’s prayer from half-court refused to hit home, and the Lancers had their first-ever WPIAL crown.

TITLE TIDBITS — Neshannock, after a 1-of-9 first period, went on to sink 33-of-71 field goal attempts for 46.5 percent. Kwiat was 14-of-21. Monessen was 34-of-66 for 51.5 percent, including a 12-of-20 showing by Tyree and a 9-of-14 effort by Bright … Neshannock won the battle of the boards, 47-39, with Kwiat grabbing 12 rebounds, Covert snaring 10 and Pakovitch and Brian DeLorenzo getting seven each. Bright had 12 for Monessen … LaRocco and Covert handed out eight and six assists, respectively.
Matthew Jones
New Castle News
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