Monessen girls battle back
Charles Dickens wrote “A Tale of Two Cities,” one of the most famous fiction books in history, in 1859.
Thursday night, Monessen coach Gina Naccarato and her Lady Greyhounds wrote a non-fiction piece that could be titled “A Tale of Two Halves” with their thrilling 49-47 Section 4 A win over second-place Winchester Thurston.
As it has done all season, Monessen (5-11, 3-4) came out sluggish in the first half, but on this night, but gave a frantic performance in the second half.
Down 28-16 early in the third quarter, the Lady Hounds pulled out the win with a putback on an offensive rebound by Mariah Ward with two seconds left.
The Lady Bears (10-7, 5-3) were out of timeouts and could not get the ball inbounds as time expired.
“For some reason all season, we aren't ready to play in the first half, and we have to stop doing that,” Naccarato said. “The second half, the girls put together a heck of a half.”
The teams came out slow offensively and traded buckets midway through the quarter, but after Cara Grogan hit a shot to give Monessen an 8-7 lead, Lexi LoNero scored five quick points en route to an 11-10 Winchester Thurston lead after one quarter.
Shortly after, Monessen went ice cold.
Chelsea Szakal recorded an old-fashioned three-point play with 6:21 to go in the second quarter to cut the deficit to 14-13, but the Lady Hounds only managed one more point the rest of the quarter.
The guests, looking to lock up second place in the section, took a 25-14 lead into the break.
So what did Naccarato, one of the most passionate basketball performers in Mon Valley history, say to fire up her team at the half?
“I didn't really say too much, and I didn't have to because one of our captains took care of it,” Naccarato said with a look of pride. “That was the voice they needed to hear.”
Down 28-16 moments into the third quarter, Monessen went on one of its vintage runs to get back in the game, scoring 11 of the next 13 points, but Winchester Thurston held on and led 37-33 entering the fourth quarter.
A 3-pointer by Mariha Johnson gave the Lady Hounds a 42-41 lead, their first since the score was 8-7 after Grogan's early basket in the first quarter.
“Mariha hit those key shots and we needed that from her,” Naccarato said of Johnson's clutch shots. “They were keying on (Ward and Szakal) and hopefully teams now see that they can't just focus on those two.”
The lead changed hands four times over the last four minutes, but the Lady Bears' Shala Barney scored inside to knot the contest at 47-47 with 22 seconds to go.
After the basket, Winchester Thurston took its last time out.
Monessen inbounded the ball under its own hoop and after it crossed half court, Naccarato took another time out to set up a last second play.
Monessen worked the ball to the high post and Grogan put up a jumper that rimmed out.
Ward grabbed the offensive rebound and hit the game-winner.
Ward finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds, while Szakal had 15 points and 15 rebounds for Monessen.
“We have been working on rebounds and it is a big part of it,” Naccarato said of her team, which recorded 15 offensive rebounds.
LoNero (16) and Brytney Humphries (15) combined for 31 points for the Lady Bears.
Next up for Monessen is Westinghouse at home in a non-section game at 1 p.m. Saturday before facing three key section contests that will dictate if the Lady Hounds will make the post-season.
They are at Geibel Monday, at Frazier Wednesday, and home with Clairton Feb. 9.
“These are all key games and my thing is is that we need to win all of our games to get in,” Naccarato said. “We can't rely on someone else to win to get us in.”
Bill Hughes is a feelance writer.