Survive and advance.
The Neshannock High girls basketball team did just that Friday night.
The Lady Lancers closed strong and held on for a 51-48 PIAA Class 2A quarterfinal-round home victory over Windber.
Neshannock (18-2) advances to the state semifinals and will meet Penns Manor (18-6), a 53-25 winner over Cambridge, on Monday at a time and site to be determined.
“It’s a phenomenal feeling,” Lady Lancers coach Luann Grybowski said. “It’s bittersweet for these kids, with all that we have went through and to be in the semifinals, it’s icing on the cake.
“We played hard. This was not one of our better games, shooting or defensively. But sometimes you win ugly. We’re moving on and that’s how you look at it.”
The Lady Ramblers (20-2) trailed the whole game until finally taking their only lead at 42-41 with just over six minutes to play.
Aaralyn Nogay’s 3-pointer with 5:58 remaining gave Neshannock the lead back. This time for good.
“We went to an offense that we hadn’t run,” Grybowski said of the play. “Neleh (Nogay) was having a hard time getting to the rim.
“They were taking away angles that she gets to the basket with. Neleh hit Aaralyn in the corner for that 3.”
The game wasn’t over, though. Windber split a pair of foul shots with 5:39 remaining to get within 5:39. But the Lady Lancers answered on their next possession for a 46-43 advantage with 5:32 to go.
Neshannock struggled at the free-throw line, going 9 of 19. But Addi Watts delivered in the clutch. She knocked down a pair of freebies to give the Lady Lancers a 50-45 buffer with 1:17 left.
“She’s just such a hard-nosed, tough kid,” Grybowski said of Watts. “There’s never a quit in her. She’s outmanned a lot, guarding 5-9 kids. She even guarded their big girl who is 6-foot; she stepped up big tonight.”
The Lady Ramblers tossed in a trifecta from the corner to close to 50-48 with 48 ticks to go. Grybowski called a timeout to set up the team’s offense. She took a second timeout with 23 seconds remaining.
Neleh Nogay was inbounding the ball and she threw it to a Windber defender on the pass in. The Lady Ramblers called for a timeout with 16 seconds left.
“That probably wasn’t the right choice on an out-of-bounds play,” Grybowski said. “I should have went to a 1-4 low spread. That one is on me.”
It worked out, though, for the Lady Lancers on the other end. Neshannock’s Mairan Haggerty was active in the passing lane and altered the Lady Ramblers’ pass and teammate Megan Pallerino corralled the errant pass with nine seconds left.
Pallerino strolled to the line and calmly made the first of a two-shot foul, with the ball hitting the front iron and backboard before going through on the first shot. That put the hosts up 51-48. The second attempt was a mirror image of the first, but instead of going through for a four-point lead, it rolled off the rim.
Windber’s Amanda Cominsky pulled down the rebound and she passed it ahead to Alexis James. James pulled up a bit behind the 3-point line and launched a shot with around 3 seconds to go.
The ball hit off the backboard and the Lady Ramblers got the rebound, but there was only time to attempt a shot inside the arc, which was errant and Neshannock held on.
“Megan has been shooting them well,” Grybowski said of Pallerino from the foul line. “We’re just not knocking them down; I hope we fix it by Monday.
“They got that 3-pointer off, but it was a little long. I wasn’t going to foul there. I said no 3s and no foul. We didn’t even really celebrate. I think it was more a sigh of relief.”
The Lady Lancers started strong, opening a 15-4 lead after one quarter and pushing the margin to 18 early in the second quarter. Neshannock settled for a 29-20 halftime advantage on the strength of four late points to end the half. Hunter Newman hit a basket with eight seconds to go in the half for the Lady Lancers and Watts picked off a pass and got a shot off just before the horn in the lane to cap the half.
“It was a great start for us,” Grybowski said. “We hit some big shots. We attacked the basket well. I knew they were going to play us man. It created issues for us because of their size. That’s the best anyone has played man against us this year. It was a game of runs. They would make runs and we would make runs.
“That was huge to end the first half like that. To hold the ball for the final shot and then get a steal, it was a key going into halftime.”
Watts paced Neshannock with 18 points. Neleh Nogay and Aaralyn Nogay both followed with eight points apiece. Haggerty contributed seven tallies and Newman added six.
Pallerino pulled down eight rebounds to go with her four points. Watts added seven boards. Neleh Nogay chipped in with five assists, four rebounds and four steals.
Windber won the battle of the boards, 31-21. But the visitors turned the ball over 17 times, compared to nine for the Lady Lancers.
Cominsky scored 15 points for the Lady Ramblers.