After fighting through consolation bracket, Yough boys set for return to PIAA playoffs

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Wednesday, March 8, 2023 | 6:29 PM


The lead for Mohawk was 11 points. The task for Yough was fearsome.

But just when their season began circling the drain, the Cougars showed their coach how tough they are.

A charged-up second half not only allowed Yough to rally for a 70-67 victory over Mohawk, but it also allowed the Cougars to carry on to a fresh challenge: a long-awaited return to the PIAA playoffs.

“We didn’t defend as well in the first half, so at halftime I said to myself, ‘Are we done?’ I didn’t see it in their eyes,” Cougars coach Jim Nesser said about the WPIAL seventh-place game last week. “In the second half, though, they played their (butts) off and willed their way to a win.”

That look in their eye returned as the Cougars (17-9) prepare to play their first PIAA game since 2005.

Perspective, anyone? Standout junior guard Terek Crosby was born in 2004.

“We sat in silence (at halftime), upset at ourselves,” Crosby said of the Mohawk game. “We all had on our minds that we needed to come out and work. We wanted it more. We earned it.”

Yough will open against District 6 champion Penn Cambria (21-5) at 5 p.m. Saturday at Mount Aloysius in Cresson, about 60 miles northeast of Greensburg on Route 22.

“We didn’t want that to be our last game,” junior forward Austin Matthews said. “It was the most packed game I can remember, at Mohawk.

“I admit I am low-key nervous (for the state playoffs), but I expect good competition, good defense and for us to win.”

After a quarterfinal loss to Neshannock, Yough worked its way back in the WPIAL consolation bracket to reach state qualification. Despite a 53-51 loss to Shady Side Academy, Yough rebounded to take seventh. In the old follow-the-winner format, Yough would have missed the state postseason.

“Our kids played hard,” Nesser said. “That was three games in five days, or whatever it was. We’re going against the 4 seed. We already played the 2nd and 3rd seeds. All the credit goes to the kids. I said early in the year I wasn’t sure how tough our guys were. They showed me in the last game.”

With Mohawk leaning more defenders on Crosby, senior Brandon Converso took advantage and made five 3-pointers.

“They left him open, and he hit shots,” Nesser said. “We had other guys step up. Terek played like a star in the fourth quarter, and Austin (Matthews) did what he does. It was Brandon’s turn.”

Crosby and Matthews are routinely in double figures. Crosby averages 20 points and has over 1,250 for his career.

But others, such as Converso, have had their moments.

“Ty Travillion came up big when we played Washington,” Nesser said. “And Parker (Rost) played well against Burrell (in the first round). It takes a team effort.”

Nesser won a state title while coaching Jeannette in 2008.

While Terrelle Pryor and Jordan Hall were prime talents, he said role players had a hand in that run, however unseen they were.

“We have (four) seniors here who don’t play, but we value what they do for us in practice. These kids care about each other.

“When I coached at Seton Hill, coach (Tony) Morocco used to use the word ‘love’ a lot. I see what he meant when I look at our guys. They make you want to come to the gym.

“We had a family at Jeannette, and we have family here.”

Nesser said tempered rest is important at this time of year. He also guided Elizabeth Forward to the PIAA postseason.

The Cougars had a scrimmage against Laurel Highlands on Tuesday then had light workouts leading up to Saturday’s game.

Yough played in a shootout at Mount Aloysius in the summer — against Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Johnstown, Berlin Brothersvalley and others — so the venue should not be altogether new.

“They know what it’s like. It’s a tight gym,” Nesser said. “We stayed overnight up there.”

The Cougars won’t stay over again, but they hope to enjoy one of the shorter bus rides for county teams in the opening round.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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