WPIAL Playoff Preview: Neshannock, Brownsville mirror images of each other
Feb 18, 2011


It shouldn’t be hard for Neshannock and Brownsville High to prepare for their showdown in the WPIAL Class AA playoffs.

All they’ll need to do is pop in some game film of their own team.

Both coaches, Brownsville’s Brian Brashear and Neshannock’s John Corey, said the teams are mirror images of one another, which should make the boys basketball preliminary-round matchup at noon Saturday at West Allegheny High School rather interesting.

“There are a lot of similarities with us,” Corey said. “Their point guard is very quick with the basketball. He’s a good overall player. They have a really good shooter who likes to spot up on the outside, and they have a couple big guys with size. Their makeup is very similar to ours.”

That’s for sure.

Neshannock (16-5) is directed by junior John Sansone, a quick point guard who generates a great deal of the Lancers’ offense with his vision and passing. Senior Brandon Marinelli, who led the area by averaging 21.2 points per game, can shoot as well as anyone around, whether it’s pulling up in the lane or nailing a 3-pointer. And 6-foot-4 senior Nick Graziani is a solid post player who rebounds well and plays solid defense.

The Falcons also are paced by a speedy junior point guard. C.J. Gaddis breaks down opposing defenses by driving into the lane and either finishing himself or dishing out to marksman Derek Jones, a senior guard who leads Brownsville (11-11) with an average of about 15 points per game. The Falcons’ big man, 6-4 senior Zach Landman, is long and lanky like Graziani and can rebound with the best of them.

Even with so many correlating attributes, something’s got to give.

“It’s going to be the little things,” Brashear said, “like making free throws, controlling the basketball and playing smart.”

While they greatly resemble each other from a personnel perspective, the differences in previous playoff experience and success are vast as well.

Brownsville is enjoying its first winning season in nearly a decade, while Neshannock is making its fourth straight trip to the playoffs. The Lancers were 10-2 in Section 2-AA and co-champs with Summit Academy. The Falcons finished in fourth place with a 6-6 mark in Section 4-AA and endured an eight-game losing streak midway through the season.

Corey said the Lancers’ maturity in that aspect could play a big role.

“Going into the game, it helps a lot — just knowing what to expect,” he said. “For guys who don’t have experience, that bus ride to your first playoff game can be very frightening. You’re on a neutral floor, you don’t know what to expect and kids can get overwhelmed.”

One key factor Neshannock can’t predict is the effect of Sansone, who injured his ankle late in the season and missed the majority of the last two games. Corey said Sansone has been resting it for much of the past two weeks and hasn’t done much in practice. Still, he said the 5-11 Sansone, averaging 14.9 points a game, will test the ankle tomorrow.

“He’s definitely going to give it a go and we’ll see how he does,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see how he can do defensively. A lot of the stuff we do is trapping and pressuring people, and if it’s bothering him, he’s obviously not going to help us on the defensive end.”

Brashear’s focus remains on his own team, which made a huge turnaround this season. The Falcons went 3-19 and 0-14 in the section in 2009-2010. Brashear said his players made a commitment in the offseason not to suffer through another poor year. Their offseason regiment was rigorous, but it’s paid dividends.

“In the offseason, we really grew up,” Brashear said. “We played in some summer league games and had guys in the weight room and in conditioning sessions. They’ve worked really hard to get to this point.

“From the beginning of the year, we knew we were a better team. We had a goal in mind to make it the playoffs. We made it, but we’re not satisfied just getting here.”

Neither is Neshannock, which won three games in last year’s postseason. This veteran group possesses the components for another run. They’ve allowed 53 points per game (the same as Brownsville, not too surprisingly), but the Lancers have scored 61 to the Falcons’ 54.

Corey doesn’t believe those numbers will determine Saturday’s winner. The numbers he’s worried about are centered on rebounding and turnovers.

“We absolutely have to win the battle on the boards,” he said. “That’s of supreme importance to us because we had some games where we did a great job on the glass and some others where we weren’t as focused as we needed to be. If we rebound, limit our turnovers and play efficiently on offense, we’ll be all right.”

As similar as these two teams are, Brashear is probably thinking the same thing.
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