St. Joseph girls ‘all-in’ on playing opener, lose to Neshannock

Friday, December 11, 2020 | 6:14 PM

St. Joseph girls basketball coach Dennis Jones said there was no question his team wanted to take the court Friday to open its season less than 24 hours after Gov. Tom Wolf announced high school sports would shut down for four weeks as part of covid-19 mitigation efforts.

“The girls have been working really hard for the past three or four weeks,” Jones said after his youthful squad fell to Class 3A Neshannock, 65-18.

“The school’s covid policy is spot-on, and the girls have done a really good job in following it and staying safe. I give them a lot of credit for that. We took all the precautions that could be taken to hold these games. When the girls said they wanted to play, I was all-in.”

The shutdown goes into effect Saturday.

The Spartans, whose rotation Friday included six freshmen, maximized their playing window with another game four hours after the completion of their contest with Neshannock. St. Joseph took on Class 3A Mohawk with an opening tip at about 9 p.m. The game ended too late for this editione.

Neshannock, the 2019 WPIAL Class 3A champion, is hoping to get back to the postseason after falling short last year.

“Neshannock is a really good team that can shoot the ball extremely well from 3-point range,” Jones said. “We had a number of girls playing their first-ever (varsity) game. There’s going to be a learning curve, especially with the speed of the game at this level. As we get more continuity in practice and in games, I know we are going to get better. I thought what we saw today was what could happen.”

One of those St. Joseph freshmen, Julie Spinelli, led the team with nine points and six rebounds. Those totals came in the first half as she left the game with a hand injury early in the third quarter.

“That was tough because we put Julie on their best shooter who was already hitting 3-point shots, and she did a really good job against her,” Jones said. “We just couldn’t match up after that.”

Senior Ally Swierczewski added eight points for the Spartans.

Neshannock started 0 for 4 from 3-point range, but the Lancers hit their next 3 — two from sophomore Mairan Haggerty and one from sophomore Hunter Newman — to take a 9-0 lead with 5:30 left in the first quarter.

The Lancers, who drained eight 3-pointers total, led 19-6 at the end of the first quarter.

Neshannock went into halftime ahead 32-16.

“We didn’t back down after they got out to that lead,” Jones said. “We just lost our composure in the second half, and you’re going to see that at times with a team as young as us against a team as good as Neshannock.”

Haggerty hit four 3-pointers in the first quarter, added nine points in the third, and finished with a game-best 23.

Junior Addi Watts added 14 points, while Newman also ended the game in double figures with 11.

“It was good to get the win, but I think we were a little too sloppy out there at times,” Neshannock coach Luann Grybowski said.

“We had too many fouls, and we didn’t shoot it as well as I would’ve liked. There are a lot of things we can fix. It’s tough to have these three weeks off and then have to get back into shape, but it is what it is.”

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

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