Knoch girls basketball team refuses to get complacent

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Wednesday, January 1, 2020 | 4:17 PM


The Knoch girls basketball team found itself in a dogfight last season for a spot in the WPIAL Class 4A playoffs.

It came down to the wire in Section 1, and despite a 1-4 mark in their final five section games, the Knights finished in a three-way tie for third place and earned a trip to the postseason.

A veteran group returns with hopes of a more comfortable path to the postseason, and as the calendar turns to January, the team hopes to add to its 3-0 section start and 6-3 record overall.

“It was too close at the end last year, so we’re really cracking down and getting as many section wins now so we don’t have to go through that again,” said junior guard Nevaeh Ewing, who leads the team with 16.8 points per game.

Knoch faces a key stretch in section beginning Thursday with a matchup at Apollo-Ridge (4-4, 1-2), one of the teams it finished tied with in the standings last season.

“I think our best games are still out there,” senior Abbey Shearer said. “We are still growing to meet our potential. We’re playing pretty well, but we have to take that next step. We have to keep pushing.”

Knoch hosts Burrell (1-6, 0-3) on Monday before a matchup Jan. 9 with a Freeport team also 3-0 in the section.

A section game against defending WPIAL champ and PIAA runner-up North Catholic looms Jan. 13.

“We know we have to work even harder to get to where we want to be,” senior forward Lauren Cihonski said. “We’re in a good spot, but we still have a lot of work to do. We can’t let down.”

Cihonski said the team fed off last season’s finish and appearance in the playoffs with a strong offseason and came back focused.

“We could really see things coming together in preseason practices,” she said. “We knew we needed everyone to be successful, and everyone has contributed. It hasn’t been just one or two people doing all the work.”

Knoch shook off a season-opening loss to Butler at the Armstrong tournament and rattled off five straight wins, including section victories over Highlands, Greensburg Salem and Indiana.

“We had a good week before Christmas, and now we have a big week-and-a-half coming up to maintain where we are,” Knoch coach Chris Andreassi said. “We have some things to work on and get better at because I know the other teams in the section are going to get better as the season goes on. They know from last year that January is a grind.”

The Knights rallied to topple Indiana, 39-37, on Dec. 17.

Down five with less than 45 seconds left, a stop on defense started the comeback. Sophomore Madilyn Boyer assisted on a jumper from Cihonski to cut the deficit to three. After another defensive stop, freshman Nina Shaw found an open Shearer for a 3-pointer to tie the score.

A third defensive stand set up the game winner. Cihonski was fouled going to the basket with 1.2 seconds left, and she sank both free throws.

“Indiana is a very good basketball team, and they are going to be a handful for everyone in January,” Andreassi said. “To go there and get a win early was so important.

“I was impressed with the way the girls refused to give up. It goes to having that experience on the floor and having the confidence to make plays in pressure situations. In that last minute, each person on the floor made a critical contribution.”

Knoch suffered a 52-29 loss to a veteran 6A Fox Chapel team at last week’s Shady Side Academy tournament. Boyer, who is averaging 13.3 points, led the team with 17 points.

The Knights responded the next day with a 57-42 victory over Shady Side Academy behind a team-best 27 from Ewing. It was her third 20-plus point performance this season.

“The Shady Side Academy game really got us back on track and gave us some momentum,” Ewing said.

Shaw, the starting point guard, is battling back from an injury suffered Dec. 20 in a loss to Winchester Thurston. Andreassi hopes she can return within the next week or two.

“Nina is a tremendous ball-handler and passer,” Andreassi said. “She has the ability to always get us into our offense under any type of pressure. She has the ability to change the course of a game without scoring any points.

“For us, it’s next man up, and we count on a number of players, like (senior guard) Jaylee Lassinger with her experience, to play important roles. To be successful, it comes down to a team effort.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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