Neshannock girls fend off Windber, make PIAA Class 2A semifinals

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Friday, March 19, 2021 | 9:57 PM


Moments after coming out of the locker room after Friday night’s game, Neshannock girls basketball coach Luann Grybowski breathed a sigh of relief.

“We got lucky to get this one,” she said.

After watching a 14-point lead slowly evaporate, led by Addi Watts and Aaralyn Nogay the Lancers made enough plays down the stretch to escape with a 51-48 victory over District 5 champ Windber in the PIAA Class 2A quarterfinals.

Neshannock will host District 6 champion Penns Manor in the state semifinals Monday.

The opportunity to host a state semifinal nearly got away from the Lancers.

Windber’s Rylee Ott scored on a layup early in the fourth quarter to put the Ramblers in front 42-41, but Aaralyn Nogay responded with a 3-pointer and Watts scored on a layup shortly after to give the Lancers the lead for good.

Watts also hit a pair of crucial free throws in the final minute after the Lancers had missed several free throws down the stretch. She also had a steal and score at the buzzer at the end of the first half.

Windber had one last opportunity to tie in the waning seconds, but Alexis James’ 3-pointer fell short.

“That’s our M.O.,” Ramblers coach Cory Pavlosky said of his team’s ability to battle. “They come together as a group and stick together on the court as teammates. As a coach, that’s all you can ask for. They battled to the final buzzer. I’m so proud of them.”

Neshannock went on a 14-0 run that spanned six minutes between the first and second quarter to jump out to an 18-4 lead, but led by six points by Amanda Cominsky and five from Gina Gaye, the Ramblers cut the deficit to 29-20 by halftime.

“I kind of anticipated that they’d get off to a good start,” Pavlosky said. “They are the WPIAL champions and we’re playing them on their floor, so we knew that they would come out swinging. We got a little bit flustered at the beginning and had some jitters and nerves. Once we settled down we started to climb back into it.”

Cominsky continued her strong play down low in the third with six more points, but got into foul trouble along with Gaye and Kylie Ashbrook. Even with three starters on the bench, the Ramblers continued to creep closer. Ott hit a pair of 3-pointers and had a layup to spurn an 8-2 run that gave Windber its brief lead.

“We didn’t have an answer for (Cominsky) and we knew that coming in,” Grybowski said. “We tried to mix up defenses and get them off guard and get her in foul trouble. We did, but that ended up not benefiting us. When she went out I thought we had an opportunity to take the lead, but we missed easy baskets and took bad shots. Then when we held the ball, we missed free throws.

“It was not one of our best games. We had a week off before we played and that never helps. And in 30 years I can say that there’s always a letdown after winning a WPIAL championship.”

Cominksy led the Ramblers with 15 points in her final game. Ott and Gaye scored 11 each. Gaye and Kylie Ashbrook fouled out in the fourth.

Aaralyn Nogay and her older sister Neleh Nogay scored eight points each.

Neshannock is now one win away from playing for its first state title. With no seniors on the roster, Grybowski has told her players to enjoy the ride.

“I told them from the beginning of the week that this will never happen again where you cut the field to eight and you have to win two games to get to Hershey, so consider it a blessing and an opportunity to take advantage of,” Grybowski said. “After this year, it will be back to 32 teams and it will take four wins to get to Hershey, so to relish the moment. They’re young. It’s kind of hard, but they’re getting it.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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