Jeannette's uncanny accuracy foils North East
SHARON - When the Jeannette basketball team warmed up prior to Wednesday's game, the Jayhawks launched repeated misfires and airballs.
But when the PIAA Class AA semifinal game began against District 10 champion North East, Jeannette didn't miss.
Jeannette (24-4) shot 76 percent from the floor in the first half (19 of 25), made all six 3-pointers, and then held on for a 75-66 victory at Sharon High School.
A standing-room-only, sellout crowd of more than 2,600 people squeezed into Sharon's gymnasium, and hundreds more were turned away.
The victory puts Jeannette, which won the PIAA Class AA football title, in its first state basketball championship at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State.
The Jayhawks will play Strawberry Mansion, the Philadelphia City League champion. Strawberry Mansion defeated Imhotep Charter, 80-68.
Jeannette put the squeeze on the Grape Pickers in the first half, shredding their defense to build a 47-31 halftime lead. Jeannette scored more points in the first half against North East than 21 of its opponents did during an entire game.
"We wanted to mess with their fans," Jeannette point guard Jordan Hall said. "Then we showed them in the game that we were playing around."
Hall, who finished with 17 points, made a 3-pointer to erase a 2-0 deficit, and Jeannette never trailed again. Jeannette used a 9-0 run on two baskets by Terrelle Pryor and two field goals and a free throw by Hall to grab a 12-3 lead.
Pryor finished with another triple-double. He had 17 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists, along with four blocked shots.
"If we shoot the ball well and we defend, we can beat anybody," Jeannette coach Jim Nesser said. "We've shot the ball well all year. When you have open looks, you're going to make shots."
North East (29-2) couldn't keep pace with Jeannette in the first half. The Jayhawks led, 26-15, after one quarter and by 16 at the break. Shaw Sunder scored eight of his 14 points in the first half.
"Coach told us we had to come out and play hard because they're a scrappy team," Hall said. "That's what we did."
North East coach Tom Pyle said he knew Jeannette would start quickly.
"We knew early that they were going to get out on us," Pyle said. "We felt that they would have something to prove."
Nesser said the players put the distractions of the past few days -- including the fight with North Catholic after the quarterfinal game -- behind them.
"I don't know how they do it," Nesser said. "They're a determined group. Their goal is to win the state championships, and that's the way it's been all year.
"What catapulted us was beating Beaver Falls in the WPIAL championship. They believe they're a great basketball team and they're destined, hopefully, to win a state championship."
North East, which lost to Jeannette, 60-57, last year, started chipping away at Jeannette's lead in the second half just like it did a year ago.
The Jayhawks led, 53-36, on a basket by Moziah Harris, but North East used a 7-0 run at the end of the third quarter to trim the lead to 53-43.
Despite a heckling North East student section, Jeannette kept its composure. Hall opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer, and Cameron Baradziej (13 points) made two baskets to push the lead to 60-48.
North East made one last run, cutting the lead to 60-53 with 3:44 left, but field goals by Harris and Baradziej stopped the run.
"We felt if we could match their intensity and keep the game relatively close, that we would wear them down and we'd get them in the middle of the third quarter," Pyle said.
"For the most part, we did that. We got it into a situation when we got it down to seven and we had a chance to make a play, then we'd miss a shot that we'd normally make. We just couldn't get over the hump. Jeannette is the reason we didn't finish. They're going to be tough to beat."
Ryan Szwejbka led North East with 16 points. Matt Triana and Michael Rouse added 15 each.
Hall said: "This is unbelievable. Not many teams get a chance to play in two state championship games. We're one of them."