Serra Catholic boys stage yet another rally, get past Jeannette

Friday, January 20, 2023 | 11:05 PM

Apparently, all Serra Catholic needs is a double-digit deficit to stir things up and inspire the team. It’s becoming second nature for the Eagles to rumble to life in the second half.

The Eagles trailed Riverview by 14 at halftime. They won.

They were down 16 at the break against Leechburg. They won.

On Friday night, they were swept under the current from the tip and were down 19 at Jeannette.

You know what happened next.

“We’re the cardiac kids,” coach A.J. Corso said. “It’s been the story of our season.”

Serra Catholic rallied for 33 second-half points after managing just 15 in the first and bypassed the Jayhawks, 48-45, in a matchup of boys basketball teams tied for second place in Section 3-2A.

The Eagles (8-6, 5-2) ran their winning streak to six — it was their third straight three-point win — as Elijah Ward scored 16 points, and senior Joey DeMoss added 11, nine in the second half.

Serra Catholic made seven 3-pointers, five after halftime as they rallied from a sluggish start and a 22-3 deficit early in the second quarter.

Jeannette (9-5, 4-3), which had a three-game win streak snapped, had a sizzling start as it built a 17-3 lead after the first quarter thanks to three 3-pointers by senior guard Giovonni Merola, who had 11 points in the opening eight minutes and finished with a game-high 20.

“I told our guys at halftime, they’re only down five 3-pointers,” Jeannette coach Adrian Batts said. “They’re never out of it because they have four or five kids who can shoot it. I knew they had a run in them. We didn’t finish.”

Serra went on a 12-3 run out of halftime as Ward and DeMoss made 3s.

DeMoss also had a putback, as did Pete Burke, to close the gap to 35-29.

Merola made two free throws, and Jeannette clung to a 37-30 edge going to the fourth.

Serra outscored Jeannette, 18-8, in the third.

“We got really stale on offense and stood around,” Batts said. “You can’t give a team like that ammunition.”

When the teams met earlier in the season, Jeannette gave up an 18-point lead but hung on to win in overtime 67-62.

Overtime looked like a strong possibility as regulation crept to a finish in the rematch.

Serra finally went ahead 43-42 with 4 minutes, 12 seconds to play on a steal and fast-break basket by junior Isiah Petty, who finished with nine points. The play followed a 3 by sophomore Owen Dumbroski.

Senior Shane Mickens scored inside to put Jeannette back in front but only briefly.

Burke popped put and nailed a 3 from 25 feet for a 46-44 Serra lead with 1:11 to go.

The Jayhawks didn’t get a field goal inside the final three minutes and went 2 for 6 from the free-throw line in the fourth.

Jeannette was 6 for 14 on free throws for the game.

Ward made two free throws with 24.8 to cap the scoring.

Jeannette inbounded with 9.8 seconds left, but Merola’s corner 3 missed and the Eagles celebrated another comeback.

“We came back at GCC and missed a shot at the buzzer,” Corso said. “We missed a lot of layups tonight, and it was loud. Jeannette is a tough place to play. I knew we could come back again. I wasn’t comfortable with being down 19, but I was comfortable knowing our guys would pick it up.

“It’s like the Serra football team in 2008. Everyone called them the comeback kids.”

Serra Catholic, which has scored exactly as many points as it has given up (913), had 24 points in the first half against Riverview but erupted for 58 in the second for an 82-79 win.

“One of the things I preach every game is free throws and layups,” Batts said. “You can’t go 2 for whatever at the line. You need to shoot 80 to 90% to win games.”

Serra is now a game back of first-place Greensburg Central Catholic (10-5, 6-1) with five section games left. The teams play Tuesday night at Serra.

Jeannette, still in the thick of the playoff race, in third place, plays Wednesday at Leechburg.

The top four teams qualify for the postseason.

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

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