Monessen bows out
INDIANA -- All good things must come to an end, and that's what happened to the Monessen girls basketball team's run through the postseason.
Conemaugh Valley (29-2), the District 6 champion, outscored Monessen, 15-9, in the fourth quarter and rallied for a 51-46 victory in the quarterfinals of the PIAA Class A playoffs Saturday afternoon at Indiana University of Pennsylvania's Memorial Field House.
The victory puts Conemaugh Valley in the state semifinals (Western Finals) against Union-Rimersburg, which defeated Serra Catholic, 65-58, on Wednesday. The game will be played at a site and time to be determined.
Monessen, which was riding a six-game winning streak, finished with a 20-11 record.
The game was going the WPIAL champion's way through three quarters. Monessen led, 37-36, and had the pace of play in its favor. In fact, a basket and free throw by Kelly Mornak (11 points) pushed the Greyhounds' lead to 40-36 early in the fourth quarter.
That's when Conemaugh Valley, behind the play of Duquesne University recruit Samantha Pollino, took control.
Pollino hit consecutive baskets to tie the score, 40-40, with 5:06 left. Kayla Brandle (17 points) scored to give Conemaugh Valley a 42-40 lead at the 4:36 mark.
Monessen center Perrial Pearson (18 points) drove the lane for a basket to tie the score, but two free throws by Pollino, who finished with a game-high 20, at the 4:04 mark gave Conemaugh Valley the lead for good, 44-42.
"They put the press on us and we cracked under pressure," Monessen coach Major Corley said. "We broke it in the first half, but we tried to play an up-tempo game, instead of walking it up.
"We had the lead and we started doing some uncharacteristic things that we didn't do in the other playoff games. The biggest thing is we didn't pound the ball underneath, especially in the fourth quarter."
Monessen entered the fourth quarter with only four turnovers. It had six after that.
While Pollino was getting the ball in the fourth quarter, Pearson barely touched it. Pollino scored 10 points in the fourth quarter and Pearson managed only two.
"When they went back to play us man-to-man, that's exactly what we wanted them to do," Conemaugh Valley coach Teri Cruse said. "We knew they didn't have anyone who could guard Pollino, so we put her out at the point and let her do what she usually does.
"In the fourth quarter, especially, they weren't too concerned with getting the ball to Pearson, and I'm not quite sure why. They were looking too soon for the 3-point shot. That actually helped us out."
Monessen had a chance to tie the score, 44-44, when Pearson intercepted a pass intended for Pollino. She drove the length of the court, but Pollino stole the ball back before Pearson went up for the shot.
Brandle (one) and Pollino (three) each converted free throws to push the lead to 48-42 with 1:17 left, as Monessen's shooting woes continued.
"We didn't get too many calls in the fourth quarter," Corley said. "They were pushing us and I'm not going to say the officials cost us, but there was a stretch when we didn't get a call at all. We went cold and got stuck on 42 for a long time."
The outside shooting of Carly Cocciolone and the inside dominance of Pearson helped Monessen grab a 26-24 lead at halftime. Monessen pushed the lead to 35-30 in the third quarter on a 3-pointer by Mornak and a put-back by Pearson, but Conemaugh Valley got back-to-back 3-pointers from Emily Coy and Brandle to take a 36-35 lead. Cocciolone's short jumper gave Monessen the lead, 37-36, heading into the fourth quarter.