'Lucky' Monessen survives in 2 OTs

| Saturday, March 8, 2014, 12:16 a.m.

For nearly four quarters Friday, Monessen coach Joe Salvino wondered what team he was watching wearing black and white uniforms.

The Greyhounds were trailing upstart Erie First Christian Academy, 49-44, with 5:44 to play in regulation in their PIAA Class A first round game at Chartiers Valley.

Monessen had sleepwalked through most of the game at that point, missing numerous layups and free throws and allowing the bigger, slower Eagles to control the game and keep it at a half-court pace.

However, in the fourth quarter Monessen's leading scorer, Clintell Gillaspie, awakened from a two-game scoring slump.

When Gillaspie heated up, he brought the rest of the Greyhounds with him.

Gillaspie, who had just 10 points after three quarters, exploded for 13 in the fourth and eight more in the two overtimes as Monessen came away with a hard-earned 87-78 win.

The victory moves the Greyhounds (21-6) into the second round against District 6 champion Bishop Carroll (26-0), an 81-42 winner Friday over Clarion-Limestone. The game will be played Tuesday at a site and time to be determined.

Salvino believes his team is fortunate to get out of the first round with a win.

“I think we were lucky to win,” Salvino said. “That week (off), regardless what it is, just takes a lot of the momentum away.

“We missed a lot of foul shots, missed a lot of lay-ups, and again that comes from your momentum carrying you to that point. And I knew before the beginning of that game we were going to have trouble simply because of our attitude warming up. It was lackadaisical.”

Salvino added, “It was just a game that we had to get through. That first game is always hard. There is no doubt in my mind we dodged a bullet.”

Monessen fell behind EFCA (15-10) in the second quarter and didn't led again until Javon Brown stole the ball and scored on a layup with 36 seconds left to put Monessen up 59-58.

The charge was ignited by Gillaspie, who scored 11 points in the final five minutes of regulation.

“Clintell came through at the end, but so did everybody else,” Salvino said.

The score was tied 61-61 after regulation and 69-69 after the first overtime.

The Greyhounds scored the first seven points in the second overtime and were never threatened after that.

Gillaspie finished with 31 points, including his first three 3-pointers since he lit up Vincentian for 30 points in Monessen's wild 110-99 win in the WPIAL semifinals. Brown had 18 points and Justice Rawlins tallied 13.

EFCA got 23 points from Romeo Kabongo, 16 after halftime.

The Eagles' two big players, 6-6 Augustine Mathias and 6-11 Valentine Sangoyami finished with 15 and 14 points, respectively, before both fouled out.

Sangoyami fouled out with 1:26 left in the fourth quarter and Mathias left with 1:15 left in the second overtime.

“It was a heck of a game and once we started losing players to fouls, it was tough for us,” said EFCA coach Phil Gernovich. “Both teams fought hard. Gotta hand it to Monessen. They took it to us in the second overtime.”

“We didn't play well defensively,” Salvino said. “But of course, they are big. I have to give them credit because of their size. It was hard to handle them sometimes inside.”

Salvino added that he felt in the end, Monessen's depth paid dividends.

“They were playing like six people and once they had to get deeper into their bench, that kind of hurt them,” he said. “In Class A, when you can go nine, 10 kids deep (like Monessen can) that really helps.”

With the first state game out of the way, Salvino hopes his team returns to playing the way it was going into the WPIAL title game.

“We were lucky to win. We dodged a bullet, but sometimes that's good,” he said. “We weren't pushing ourselves hard enough. Now we know.”

PLAYOFF NOTES: Monessen made just 20 of 38 free throws, while EFCA made 13 of 28 ... Rawlins played most of the fourth quarter and both overtimes with four fouls, but didn't fouled out ... Brown had six points in the second overtime, while teammate Lavelle Rush hit two big baskets ... Tickets for Tuesday's game will be sold at the high school office Monday from 9 a.m. to noon and 1-3 p.m. and from 6-8 p.m. in the athletic office. Tickets will also be sold Tuesday from 9 a.m. to noon in the high school office. Prices are $6 for adults and $3 for students.

Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or joliver@tribweb.com.

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