Lady Lancers make history with victory
Neshannock (34) Vs. East Allegheny (33)
Mar 01, 2017
By Joe Sager
New Castle News
FOX CHAPEL – The Neshannock High girls basketball team made program history Wednesday night.
The Lady Lancers hope they’re not done, either.
The squad secured its first trip to a WPIAL championship game with a thrilling 34-33 upset win over second-seeded East Allegheny in a Class 3A semifinal at Fox Chapel High School.
“I love it. I love my team; I love my coaches. I just love everything about it,” Neshannock sophomore Bella Burrelli said.
Neshannock (23-1) can bring home the program’s first district championship trophy at 11 a.m. Saturday at the University of Pittsburgh’s Petersen Events Center. The Lady Lancers meet top-seeded Bishop Canevin, a 45-24 winner over Carlynton, for the crown.
“This is awesome,” Neshannock junior Aidan Noga said. “We’re looking forward to playing for the championship. We weren’t expected to win this game, either. We like being the underdogs.”
Early on, Neshannock’s offense struggled to find a rhythm. Fortunately for the Lady Lancers, their defense, which ranks first in the WPIAL, remained strong. After falling behind, 11-8, after the first, the team battled to a 13-all tie at intermission.
“It’s probably the most nervous I’ve ever seen them. We’re usually taking pretty high-percentage shots and taking care of the ball,” Neshannock coach Luann Grybowski said. “I have to credit (East Allegheny’s) defense, too. They did a good job defensively.”
Neshannock’s offense gained some traction in the third quarter and the squad posted a 23-21 edge at the horn. The team’s defense remained intense against the Lady Wildcats (23-1), who average a Class 3A-best 61.6 points per game. The 33 points scored represent a season low for East Allegheny.
“We didn’t really give up on defense,” Noga said. “Our coach stressed how important defense was, especially this game, since they are the highest-scoring team. We work on defense a lot.”
Amani Johnson’s 3-pointer gave the Lady Wildcats a 24-23 lead 16 seconds into the final frame. The Lady Lancers responded with a 9-0 run. Burrelli got it going when she tallied the first six points. Noga had a pair of free throws and Burrelli’s charity toss capped the drive and gave the squad a 32-24 edge with 3:50 left.
Neshannock could not maintain the edge, though, as East Allegheny marched on a 9-0 run of its own for a 33-32 lead with 1:16 to go.
“It was pretty scary, to be honest – especially when we were down by one point,” Burrelli said. “Everyone was saying to stay calm and play your game. That actually really helps.”
The Lady Wildcats turned the ball over to the Lady Lancers with 55.9 seconds to play. However, Neshannock gave it right back 15.4 seconds later. Johnson was fouled with 23.3 seconds on the clock. After making her first four free throws on the night, she missed the mark on the front end of a bonus situation.
“I am surprised that she missed a free throw,” Grybowski said. “Of the films I’ve watched on them, she had to go 90 percent at the line. I was very surprised she missed.”
The Lady Lancers snagged the rebound, but threw the ball away with 22.2 seconds to go. They got it right back after an East Allegheny turnover, though. Burrelli drew a foul with 18 seconds remaining and she calmly swished both ends of the one-and-one situation to put Neshannock ahead, 34-33.
“It was pretty cool,” she said. “Shooting free throws is like our whole practice. We run and then go to the free-throw line.”
The Lady Wildcats had one more possession. Double teamed, Johnson was unable to drive to the basket or find an open shot. She dished the ball to a wide-open teammate, who bricked a mid-range shot just before the buzzer sounded.
“I was surprised,” said Noga, one of the Lady Lancers guarding Johnson on the night. “I thought she was going to take it, but she passed it off to another girl.”
Johnson finished with a game-high 23 points — well below her WPIAL-best 31.1 average.
“I preached all week it was about defense. We had to somehow contain her. She is a phenomenal player,” Grybowski said. “She handles the ball; she handles the open man; she attacks; she shoots the 3 and she reads so well. The player of the game award goes to Aidan Noga. Aidan did a phenomenal job on her.”
Burrelli led Neshannock with 18 points — nine of which came in the critical fourth quarter.
“She is such a competitor,” Grybowski said. “I don’t have enough words for her. She wanted the ball. She defended and knocks down free throws at the end — 18 seconds left and down one for a sophomore and she knocks them both down. Wow.”