Nazareth Prep continues impressive postseason run with PIAA 2nd-round victory

Tuesday, March 12, 2019 | 11:01 PM

There is a sense of the unknown surrounding Nazareth Prep, the tiny private Catholic school situated along Ohio River Boulevard in the Allegheny County borough of Emsworth.

One thing is quite clear, however, regarding that obscure third-year WPIAL member, the former Holy Family Academy: The Saints know how to play basketball on a big stage.

The WPIAL champions staved off a hard-charging Shade team Tuesday night to advance in the PIAA playoffs with a 67-61 victory in a Class A second-round game at Hempfield.

“Our first two years here we didn’t have a team,” said Saints senior guard Hassan Ismaeli, who had a game-high 18 points. “Third year, we just got into the WPIAL and started playing. Last year was the first year we ever made it to the WPIAL playoffs. And this year, we started getting our first everything: Our first win, our first championship, our first state win, hopefully we get the Hershey state championship next.”

The Saints (21-3) are a step closer to that ultimate goal after a well-earned victory over the Panthers (22-5), the champions from District 5 who were seeking a return trip to the quarterfinals.

After giving up 27 second-quarter points and surrendering a 10-point lead to fall behind 37-33 at halftime, Nazareth Prep rallied to regain control and finally hold off the Panthers.

“We have been through it all season,” said Ismaeli, who was 8 for 8 from the foul line, including 6 of 6 in the fourth. “When we were down and they came back, the captains rallied together and stayed calm like we always do. We’re a resilient team.”

Nazareth Prep advances to play Monessen (17-9) on Friday in the quarterfinals — time and site to be determined.

Senior Tre Harvey finished with 14 points, junior William Taylor added 12, and 6-6 junior Jabriel Johnson had 10 for the Saints.

As a see-sawing third quarter neared its end, freshman Jaden Gales came out of a timeout, caught the ball on the wing and buried a 3 at the buzzer to give the Saints a 48-46 lead heading to the fourth.

“Once you get a lead, especially in the fourth quarter,” Nazareth Prep coach Nehemiah Brazil said, “every possession is precious. You have to treat it like it’s your last dollar that you have to your name. You don’t want to waste it.”

The Saints cashed in the momentum. They scored 10 of the first 11 points of the fourth to rebuild a double-digit advantage, at 58-47.

Shade kept firing away and eventually got back into rhythm, tightening the gap inside the final minute of the fourth.

Senior Brady Fyfe’s 3-pointer cut it to 60-54 with 58.4 left. The Panthers hit eight 3s.

Free throws kept the Panthers at bay, although sophomore Vincent Fyock scored in close to make it 63-58 with about 40 seconds left, and then Fyock swished a 3 with about 15 seconds to go to make it 65-61.

“A lot of teams we play shoot it so well, so we’re always telling our guys to be mindful that we have to challenge each

and every shot,” Brazil said. “You can’t just take it for granted and hope these guys miss. At least we can’t give them clean looks. I didn’t expect them to go away, we just regrouped at halftime and we said we have to win this game with defense and be patient on offense.”

Nazareth Prep led 15-5 early, and 18-10 after the first quarter.

A 14-0 run by Shade in the second quarter flipped the advantage its way, 32-26.

The Panthers stretched it to 42-33 in the third before the Saints used a 12-2 surge to take a 45-44 edge.

“A lot of teams don’t run man against us,” Ismaeli said. “So when they came out and ran man it was like, freedom; we can do what we want. We’re used to playing against zone when we have to keep moving the ball to get open. Man-to-man it was one-on-one ball and that’s what we like to do.”

Sophomore Kaden Koleszarik led Shade with 16 points. Sophomore Vincent Fyock added 15, senior Austin Mauger 14, and senior Brady Fife, 10, for Shade.

Nazareth Prep made 13 of 19 free throws.

Brazil knows Monessen will be a tough out in the state’s Elite Eight. But he likes his team’s chances nonetheless.

“Guys are working hard and believing and just trying to give it all we have each game,” Brazil said. “And see how far we can take it.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .

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