Lancers qualify for playoffs
Neshannock (56) Vs. Laurel (44)
Feb 11, 2012
By Joe Simon
New Castle News

This wasn’t necessarily the scenario Neshannock High coach John Corey was hoping for in the biggest game of the year.

The Lancers, who needed a win over Laurel to make the playoffs, were without their second-leading scorer, John Sansone, sidelined with an ankle injury, and sharpshooter Matt McKinney, who was out with the flu.

Minutes into its showdown with the Spartans, Corey watched as Lawrence County’s top scorer, Ernie Burkes, walked off the court after picking up his second foul.

But Corey kept the faith, and it paid off.

Burkes returned to have a big night, and a few unfamiliar faces shined in key spots as the Lancers beat Laurel, 56-44, on the road in a WPIAL Section 2-AA clash. The win, coupled with Mohawk’s loss to Shenango, pushed Neshannock into the playoffs for the fifth straight year.

They had to fight off a gritty Laurel team to get there.

The Lancers (6-6, 11-10) trailed, 7-6, when Burkes committed his second foul, and the Spartans’ student section applauded loudly as he walked off the court. It appeared the momentum was changing, especially since Laurel (0-12, 2-19) already was fired up for its Senior Night.

Corey still felt his team was in a good position, though.

“It was one of those situations where there’s nowhere else to turn, but I had confidence that, defensively, the guys on the floor were going to battle and keep us in the game,” he said.

They did just that.

Burkes returned with 30 seconds remaining and Laurel up just 9-7. He changed that in a hurry, drilling a deep 3-pointer as time expired in the quarter — a recurring theme for Neshannock.

Laurel stuck around, though, thanks mainly to its seniors. Todd Fennick scored eight of his 15 points in the second quarter, and the Spartans trailed by six at the half. They were within eight with 1.6 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Neshannock was inbounding the ball from under its own hoop, and senior Connor Jones, starting in place of Sansone, slipped free. Burkes made a nice pass and Jones caught the ball and banked it in for another momentum-swinging score for the Lancers.

“When you’re not scoring a lot, every mistake is magnified,” Laurel coach Mike Tinstman said. “That’s a problem we have. We make too many mistakes for the type of offensive team we are, so it’s frustrating. In the third quarter, we came out, we played hard, we were within reach, and at the end of the quarter, that out-of-bounds play, somebody didn’t see the ball — those are things we can’t afford to do.”

Neshannock kept the positive energy going this time as senior Ethan McCarthy nailed a 3 to start the fourth, putting the Lancers up 13 and quieting the home crowd. McCarthy, Jones, Joe Iorio and Anthony Van Eman — all seniors for Neshannock — stepped up in key spots.

“Even without (Sansone) on the floor, we had to come together as a team,” Jones said. “I was real impressed with all the players who usually don’t see a lot of time, like Marcus Giangiuli, Matt Seltzer, all those guys. They always play so hard in practice, it’s good to see them succeed like that. It’s just a good feeling when everyone is playing as one like that.”

Burkes took over in the fourth quarter. He finished with 28 points, including 17 of 19 from the free throw line. He made 10 of 11 in the fourth to seal the victory.

Corey, who just recently returned to the team after suffering a stroke nearly three weeks ago, said it meant a lot to him to reach the playoffs because the senior class has been through so much. Iorio and McCarthy missed more than a month with injuries, Sansone’s missed a handful games with a bad ankle and the whole team felt the effects of Corey’s brief but scary departure.

“I’m just happy for the kids,” said Corey, who’s led Neshannock to the playoffs in each of his four seasons as coach. “Our senior group, we talked a lot about the importance of getting to the playoffs, and they didn’t want to be the group that didn’t get there.”

Mission accomplished.

Nightly Roundup
Game Scoreboard
Neshannock 10 15 12 19 0 56
Laurel 9 10 8 17 0 44
Box Scores
Ernie Burkes 4 17-19 28
John Conglose 2 0-0 5
Joe Iorio 1 0-0 2
Anthony Van Eman 1 0-1 2
Connor Jones 1 0-0 2
Ethan McCarthy 2 0-0 5
Ty Haswell 0 7-8 7
Matt Seltzer 2 1-1 5
Marcus Giangiuli 0 0-0 0
Totals: 13 25-29 56

Ryan Hites 0 0-0 0
Richard Jones 5 4-4 15
Todd Fennick 6 4-7 16
Joshua Finley 2 1-3 5
Conor Melichar 0 0-0 0
Josh Dando 0 0-0 0
Brad Telesz 2 3-4 8
James Steele 0 0-0 0
Totals: 15 12-18 44

NESHANNOCK 10 15 12 19 — 56
LAUREL 9 10 8 17 — 44

3-point goals — Neshannock 5 (Conglose 1, Burkes 3, McCarthy 1), Laurel 2 (Jones 1, Telesz 1).
JV score: Laurel 40, Neshannock 38. High scorer: L — James Steele 10. N — Clayton Kemerer 11.
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