Wolves reach state semifinals
WEXFORD — West Shamokin stepped it up earlier in the week to give Olivia Fusaro one more opportunity for another milestone after the junior guard had a rare off night.
Saturday at North Allegheny High School, she returned the favor in a big way.
West Shamokin took advantage of Neshannock’s early foul trouble to carve out a 10-point halftime lead, and Fusaro scored a game-high 18 points and eclipsed 1,000 in her career with a crucial shot in the fourth quarter as the Wolves narrowly staved off the Lancers, 38-35, in the PIAA Class 3A girls’ basketball quarterfinals.
In the longest postseason run in school history, West Shamokin (27-2), the District 6 champ, won its 15th straight game to advance to a semifinal matchup with WPIAL champion Bishop Canevin (22-5) on Tuesday at a site and time to be determined. Bishop Canevin defeated Carlynton, the third-place team from the WPIAL, 53-29, on Saturday.
“I’m thrilled for the girls. They left it all out there,” West Shamokin coach Frank Nagy said. “And obviously, that’s a great basketball team. They’re well-coached. We knew they were going to bring everything they had at us, and that was a battle. It was an up-and-down battle. You start to get nervous as the game goes along, but the girls did a great job and pushed through.”
Two days after totaling just three points in a 59-47 second-round win over Delone Catholic, Fusaro scored 11 of the Wolves’ 12 points in the fourth quarter, including what proved to be the shot of the night as Neshannock (25-3) threatened to reclaim the lead West Shamokin held for nearly the entire game.
The Lancers, the WPIAL runners-up, drew within four, 29-25, with less than six minutes remaining on a three-point play by sophomore forward Isabella Burrelli — one of four Neshannock players to incur at least four fouls.
On West Shamokin’s ensuing possession, Andrea Orlosky squeezed through a trio of defenders in the paint to find a wide-open Fusaro beyond the arc.
Burrelli fouled out attempting to block the shot, which Fusaro drained at the 5:38 mark before missing the free throw. That boosted the Wolves’ lead to seven, 32-25, and brought Fusaro’s varsity total to four digits as her teammates and a raucous crowd cheered. She added a basket and three free throws, while the Lancers scored just four points over the next four minutes.
“I knew coming into the game that I needed 12 points to get to 1,000, and that was the one,” Fusaro said. “It feels really good. Andrea passed me the ball and the shot was open, so I just took it like any other shot and it was for my 1,000. Us, as a team, we work hard all year round … and I’m just blessed that I had this opportunity.”
“We knew she was going to get it. It was just a matter of time when, and I think now there’s a little relief lifted from her,” Nagy said. “She’s tough on herself. She missed some shots there, but I’m just super happy that she was able to get it.”
Neshannock’s Carmella Matarazzo, who took her fourth foul shortly after Burrelli exited the game, again brought the Lancers within four, 36-32, with 21 seconds remaining, and after Fusaro’s final two foul shots, Alexandra Zarilla closed the gap to three, 38-35, before time ultimately ran out.
The three-point gap was the smallest since the first quarter, when Neshannock held it’s only lead of the game, but the Lancers outscored the Wolves in each of the last two, including a 9-5 advantage in the third, after West Shamokin dominated late in the first half.
The stingy Wolves took a slim 11-9 lead into the second before scoring 10 straight points, helped by nine first-half Neshannock fouls, including three in a span of just over a minute — Burrelli was charged with her second and third, and Matarazzo was given her second before the break. Zarilla snapped the near-shutout with a basket 11 seconds before halftime as West Shamokin outscored the Lancers 10-2 to take a 21-11 advantage into the locker room.
“We weren’t comfortable with the 10-point lead, but we were definitely happy to have that cushion going into the second half,” Nagy said. “They’re a very good defensive team. They were physical and they came after us, and the girls did a nice job finishing when we had to, knocking down some big shots.
“They matched up well with us. We just knew it was going to be a battle. I wouldn’t have been surprised if it was a 26-25 final. I was fully expecting some type of battle like that. Our girls did a great job there, and both teams started to wear down as the game went along, so more points were scored later. But it was just hard-fought there in the second quarter.”
“We knew coming in that they’re a second-half team, and they are just like us,” Fusaro said. “They like to play harder in the second half, so we just knew that we needed to come out with as much intensity as them or more and just finish the game.”
Neshannock played most of the second half in foul trouble.
“It absolutely hurt us, there’s not doubt about that,” Neshannock coach Luanne Grybowski said. “My kids are giving their best, I’m giving my best, so I expect the best officials. When you get to this point in the season, you need a good crew on the game.
“But hats off to (West Shamokin). That’s the next-best defensive team I’ve seen, besides ours.”
Neshannock outshot the Wolves 14-12 from the field, but West Shamokin went 12-for-20 from the foul line, while the Lancers made just 5 of 10 free throw attempts.
Jasah Huth tacked on 12 points, four steals and four rebounds for the Wolves. Katie Glover had five boards, Orlosky dished out five assists, and Fusaro came up with five steals.
For Neshannock, Burrelli scored a team-high 14 points, and Matarazzo added 11.
“It’s awesome, especially it being a team win. It feels nice because we play together as a family,” Huth said. “We had to keep pushing on the pedal. Keep going, keep going, push through it, and we did. … We’re in the final four. It’s such a great accomplishment.”