Neshannock stops undefeated Serra Catholic, wins 2nd WPIAL title in 3 years

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Friday, March 12, 2021 | 7:30 PM


Serra Catholic finished the regular season at 16-0 as undefeated section champions, so there was some sentiment that the Eagles should have been the top seed in the WPIAL Class 2A tournament.

Neshannock posted a 16-2 record and shared its section championship, but received the No. 1 seed.

The best way to settle things was on the court, and it was there at North Allegheny that Neshannock bested Serra Catholic, 54-44, to capture its second WPIAL title in three seasons.

The game featured a matchup of two longtime and successful head coaches. Serra’s Bill Cleary, who has 657 career wins in 34 years, was in search of his fifth WPIAL title. The Lancers’ Luann Grybowski now has 683 career wins in 41 years, including 209 in her 12 years at Neshannock. She was also seeking her fifth gold medal.

Megan Pallerino scored a season-high 18 points and Naleah Nogay added 14 to lead the Lancers to the win.

“Megin Pallerino was a beast all game, rebounding, hitting shots,” Grybowski said of her sophomore forward.

The game was tied 15-15 in the second quarter when the Lancers went on an 8-0 run to take a 23-15 halftime lead.

Serra’s Nicole Pawlowski hit two of her five 3-pointers early in the third quarter, but Nogay’s trey kept Neshannock in the lead.

“We obviously didn’t locate her (Pawlowski) until we went to a box-and-one in the last quarter,” Grybowski said.

Grace Navarro, who scored the first six points of the game for Serra, picked up her fourth personal foul with 3:11 left in the third and after she punched the ball in frustration, she was hit with a technical foul and disqualified. Pallerino split her foul shots and Nogay missed both technical free throws, and after Serra got a stop, the Eagles’ comeback attempt was on.

Serra was able to cut the lead to one in the fourth quarter, but Aaralyn Nogay hit a jumper and a 3 and Hunter Newman scored two baskets and added a pair of free throws to propel Neshannock to the win.

“Pallerino hit a couple of big shots, and the other Nogay (Aaralyn) hit that jumper and the 3, and we didn’t have very good possessions after that,” Cleary said.

“Hunter was another player who stepped up,” Grybowski said. “She doesn’t usually handle the ball because Mairan (Haggerty) usually does.”

Grybowski also singled out the younger Nogay’s baskets in the fourth quarter.

“Neleh controls the tempo of the game, which she did, but Aaralyn hit those two big shots, the foul-line jumper and the big three from the corner,” she said.

The Lancers prevailed even though their top scorer, Haggerty, was held to just two points. The sophomore guard who averages over 19 points a game struggled from beyond the arc and ended up fouling out with 4:47 left in the game.

Grybowski said the performance from her top scorer was unusual.

“That’s the first time she fouled out and probably the first time she didn’t hit a 3,” she said.

Junior Addi Watts scored eight points for Neshannock, which has no seniors on the roster. Watts and Neleh Nogay are the only juniors.

“It feels amazing,” Watts said. “Honestly, it was just everybody working hard and everybody coming together and stepping up.”

Pawlowski, a three-year starter and senior guard, was the only Eagle to finish in double figures with 15 points. Fellow senior Chloe Honick added nine while freshman Cate Clark came off the bench to score seven.

Due to covid-19 restrictions, only the WPIAL champions will head to the PIAA playoffs, so Serra’s season is over.

“This was a great game. We were there and we had our opportunities,” a disappointed Cleary said.

The Lancers, who did not qualify for the playoffs last season, previously won the Class 3A championship in 2019. Grybowski now has five titles.

“It’s the same feeling (as the others),” she said. “In fact, I think it’s better because we really didn’t expect to be here.”

The title game win also added onto to a special couple of days for Grybowski, who celebrated her birthday yesterday.

“They brought cupcakes and balloons to practice yesterday and my daughter (Tayler) surprised me by flying in from Florida, but I said what would complete the birthday is a gift of gold,” Grybowski said.

Neshannock will move onto the quarterfinal round of the state playoffs and play host to the champion from either District 5 or District 9 on March 19.

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

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