Top-seeded Neshannock girls defeat Shady Side Academy for 1st WPIAL title

Saturday, March 2, 2019 | 1:00 PM

Every team needs a little luck while making a championship run. Unfortunately, for Shady Side Academy, Neshannock’s luck came in the form of a late time out by the Indians.

Trailing by three points with 18.5 seconds remaining, Shady Side Academy’s Ariana Goitz brought the ball up the floor, had an open look from behind the 3-point line and swished a 3-pointer that would have tied the game, but Shady Side Academy coach Amy Szlachetka called a time out a split second before Goitz’s shot went up and the officials waved off the basket. Szlachetka dropped her head in disbelief and her Indians didn’t score another point the rest of the way.

Backed by a tough defensive performance, key adjustments and clutch shooting, top-seeded Neshannock beat No. 3 Shady Side Academy, 47-42, to earn its first WPIAL Class 3A girls basketball championship Saturday afternoon at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center.

“Phenomenal, phenomenal,” said Neshannock coach Luann Grybowski after the game. “I told them during the pregame talk that this is your destiny. You deserve to be here. It is your destiny, let’s go get it.”

The win is Grybowski’s fourth WPIAL title. She coached New Castle to three titles prior to taking over at Neshannock.

Neshannock (23-2) will go into the PIAA Class 3A bracket and face the District 6 fourth-place finisher. Shady Side Academy (19-4) will face the District 10 third-place finisher. Both teams will open up PIAA play on March 8 at a site and time to be determined.

“We were (going) to draw up a play that we have to try and get a shot at the top of key, worst time out I ever called,” Szlachetka said.

The Lancers held their largest lead of the game at 34-28 when the third-quarter buzzer sounded. Once the fourth quarter started, Goitz took over and scored all of the Indians’ 14 fourth-quarter points on her way to a game-high 23.

“(Goitz) went hard to the basket, which is what we needed,” Szlachetka said. “(Goitz) found some holes and got to the hoop, which is great for us because from the free-throw line she rarely misses.”

Goitz started the final quarter with a tough dribble-drive to the hoop to cut into the Lancers lead at 34-30. She came back with two free throws and added a 3-pointer from the right elbow to trim the Lancers lead to 36-35 with 5:13 left.

With Goitz doing all the scoring, Neshannock shooters fell cold and seemed to just tread water early in the fourth quarter. Neshannock’s Ellina DeLillo connected on two free throws to give the Lancers a little breathing room.

Goitz came back down the floor added and short jumper, picked up the foul and tied the game at 38-38 after a free throw with 4:30 remaining.

“She did a great job to get us back in the game,” Szlachetka said.

Neshannock senior Brie Dean came through with a 3-pointer from the top of the arc to give the Lancers the lead back for good at 41-38 with 3:45 on the clock.

Neshannock freshman Neleh Nogay, who earned the nickname “Secretariat” from her teammates, scored a basket and added two late free-throws to close out the game. Nogay finished with a team-high 17 points.

“The bottom line is, I say you’re a freshman until you play about 10 games,” Grybowski said. “She has 24 in, she’s no longer a freshman and she didn’t play like one either.”

Shady Side Academy came out fast in the first quarter. Goitz put the Indians on the board first with a layup. Speedy senior guard Catherine Jewart swished the first of her three first-half 3-pointers. Jewart finished the game with nine points and was held scoreless in the second half.

“We have a tendency to do that,” Szlachetka said. “We start out with a lot of energy.”

The Indians held a slim, 12-11 lead at the first-quarter buzzer. Dean got hot for the Lancers in the second quarter and put in back-to-back 3-pointers to give Neshannock its first lead at 17-12 with 6:43 remaining in the first half.

Goitz banged home a 3-pointer from the right elbow to give the Indians the lead back at 21-20. Nogay added a deep jumper late in the first half to send the Lancers into the locker room with the lead at 24-21.

“We started out (playing) man (defense) and that wasn’t my original plan, but I just wanted to see what they would run and how they would react to it,” Grybowski said. “We just had to bear down defensively, which was the bottom line.”

There is potential for a rematch between the two teams in the PIAA bracket if both make it through to the semifinal round. Bella Burrelli finished with 11 points and Dean chipped in with 10 for Neshannock.

“It’s been a wonderful season and to play with these (girls) and win, it’s awesome,” Dean said.

William Whalen is a freelance writer.

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