Union boys fall to Monessen in WPIAL Class 1A semi
Union (64) Vs. Monessen (88)
Feb 27, 2017
By Clay Sauertieg
New Castle News
McMURRAY — The Union High boys basketball team fought hard but came up short Monday night.
The fifth-seeded Scotties, inspired by a quarterfinal-round upset of fourth-seed Clairton, squared off with top-seeded Monessen at Peters Township with a berth in the WPIAL Class 1A title game on the line.
After a back-and-forth first half that ended with Union trailing by just four at the break, the Greyhounds pulled away in the home stretch to win 88-64 and return to the championship game that they won in 2015.
The Scotties lost to Monessen 112-62 in the WPIAL Class A quarterfinals last year. This is the fourth time in six years that the Greyhounds will play for a WPIAL crown.
"We went out there and battled," Union coach Mark Stanley said. "(Monessen) did what they always do though, they had some spurts. They're able to create distance and it's just a tough matchup for anybody in the WPIAL. But I'm proud of my kids, we battled."
The Scotties (18-7) were able to match the Greyhounds (17-7) stride for stride for much of the first half. Union hit five 3-pointers in the first quarter, two each from Constantin Padure and Tre Charles to go with one from Nate Meeks, and trailed by just two points at 24-22 after one.
The second quarter was a similar story, though with a slightly less frenetic pace. Stanley's team employed a 2-3 zone defense to slow the tempo of the game and hold Monessen to just 17 second-quarter points. The strategy kept the Greyhounds from pulling away as they held a tenuous 41-37 lead at the break.
Had it not been for a pair of controversial calls against the Scotties — a non-call against Seth Pinkerton, followed by a blocking foul on Charles at the opposite end, they may well have been even heading into half.
"Yeah, they landed on Pinkerton," Stanley said of the non-call on a Pinkerton layup attempt late in the half. "It's an obvious foul, but you know it's happens. It's not the referee's fault. They play a physical style and they come out there and get it so you have to credit (Monessen)."
Monessen took over in the third quarter, thanks in part to the tremendous performance of senior guard Justice Rice. Rice, who finished with 38 points to lead all scorers, scored 13 in the period as the Greyhounds outscored the Scotties 30-12 in the quarter and seized control of the ball game.
Rice averages 18.9 points per game and is part of a backcourt duo for Monessen with fellow senior Jaden Altomore that combines to average 41.1 points per game. Altomore also turned in 25 points to top his season average of 22.2
The Scotties' 12 points in the frame were the least of any quarter.
"A lot of times we were rushing things, sometimes we were settling for things when we didn't have to and we weren't playing defense. I told them that they have to settle down and play better defensively and they responded," veteran Monessen coach Joe Salvino said.
Offensively, Union played its best game of the postseason. The Scotties' 64 points were the most of their three playoff games and they finished with three players with at least nine points.
Pinkerton led the way with 16 points, Charles followed with 15 to pair with five assists, while Meeks chipped in with nine on three 3-pointers.
Union now looks to regroup as the semifinal berth ensures that it will return to the PIAA playoffs for the second consecutive season. The Scotties will open the state playoffs March 10.
"We'll take a day or two off before we get in the gym, shoot and have some fun," Stanley said. "And then next week we'll start loading up and have some fun and enjoy it."