Lady Hounds on winning streak
With an overall record of 9-11 (including 6-4 in Section 4 A), you wouldn't think that Monessen girls basketball coach Gina Naccarato would be feeling too good about her team going into the WPIAL playoffs.
Going into tonight's non-section game at Thomas Jefferson, the Lady Greyhounds are riding a five-game winning streak after Saturday's 46-32 win over Clairton.
More important, the victory over the Lady Bears put Monessen in second place in the section behind champion Serra Catholic.
“We made great improvement over the second half of the season,” said Naccarato, whose team started the campaign 0-8. “We challenged the girls to win the last four section games to finish in second and that's what they did.
“They were willing to work. If you look at where we started and where we are now, the difference is tremendous. In the end, it's all about the kids because they were willing to put the time in and work hard in practice.”
The win over Clairton (7-13, 4-6) was also good news for Frazier because it put the Lady Commodores into a tie with Clairton for fourth place and allowed them to sneak into the playoffs.
On Saturday, after a 9-9 first quarter tie, Monessen went on a 7-0 run in the second quarter to open up a 16-9 lead and was never headed after that.
Mariah Ward led the Lady Greyhounds with 24 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter.
“She's a senior and she just took over the game like she has a lot of games this season,” Naccarato said of her 1,000-point scorer. “Really, she has come a long way just this season alone. I'm really proud of her.”
Ward had six rebounds and five assists to go with her solid game.
While Ward was the only Monessen player to crack double figures, fellow senior Chelsea Szakal had a good performance with eight points and nine rebounds while Mariha Johnson had six points, going six-for-eight at the foul line.
Monessen made 11 of 15 free throws in the fourth quarter.
“The way we are playing now, we have momentum going into the playoffs,” Naccarato said. “The big difference is we have more confidence as a team. Experience and confidence has been huge for us.”
Clairton was led by Justice Hall with 13 points.
The Lady Bears' leading scorer, Kamara Townes who had scored 24 points and hit six three-pointers when Clairton beat Monessen earlier in the season, was held scoreless until late in the third quarter and finished with nine points.
BoysClairton 51, Monessen 38
During a nearly 19-minute stretch from the first quarter until late in the third, the Monessen Greyhounds held high-scoring Clairton to just 11 points in their Section 3 A finale at Monessen Saturday.
However, the Greyhounds didn't score much more in that time, totaling just 21 points against the aggressive Bears defense.
And that is where Monessen lost the game in a 51-38 defeat in its home finale.
“We did a great job defensively against them, no question,” said Monessen coach Joe Salvino. “But we didn't score, either. Between our terrible foul shooting and the layups we missed, that's where we lost this game.
Monessen (9-12, 7-3) made just six of 14 first half free throws as Clairton took a low-scoring 15-12 lead into intermission.
For the game, the Greyhounds made just 11 of 26 free throws.
“Those are free points that we gave away, plus the layups we missed,” Salvino said. “You can't do that against a team like Clairton and expect to win.”
The Bears (13-6, 10-0) started fast against Monessen before a large, vocal crowd, soaring out to an 8-0 lead 2:27 into the game.
But the Greyhounds didn't panic. They kept chipping away as the teams defended their baskets fiercely.
Monessen closed to 12-7 after one quarter and 15-12 at the half.
With 3:47 left in the third quarter, Justice Rawlins scored to give Monessen its first tie, 19-19, and then he made two free throws with 2:33 left in the quarter to give the hosts their first and only lead, 21-19.
Clairton then hit three straight three-pointers to grab a 28-21 lead going into the fourth quarter.
When Tyler Boyd started the fourth with another trey – his fourth of the game – Clairton led 31-21.
At that point, the Bears had made just 10 field goals. However, eight of them were three-pointers.
“I don't think Clairton is that great of a perimeter shooting team, but we didn't contest many of those threes,” Salvino said. “You have to get up on them and get a hand in their face.
“I thought we worked hard on defense and when we got the lead, I thought we would seize momentum. But we let them hit those threes and it looked like we gave up a little.”
In the fourth quarter, Monessen trailed by double figures the entire time.
Clairton was led by Bryon Clifford with 23 points – 20 coming in the second half. He also went over 1,000 points for his career in the game.
Boyd added 14 points with four treys.
Monessen was led by Clintell Gillaspie with nine points, all in the first half.
“It's a shame we couldn't win this game, especially with the great support we got from our fans who really showed up,” Salvino said.
The Greyhounds visit Hempfield tonight and then await Tuesday's WPIAL basketball playoff pairings meeting to see what their postseason fate will be.
Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or firstname.lastname@example.org.