Monessen survives first-round PIAA scare

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BRIDGEVILLE – Monessen guard Clintell Gillaspie sat on the tile floor outside the showers in the Greyhounds’ locker room. Holding a large bag of ice on his left elbow, Gillaspie pulled himself to stand. After 42 minutes of basketball, including two overtime periods, he wanted a few minutes to catch his breath before climbing onto the bus back to Monessen.


Luckily for Gillaspie and the Greyhounds, thanks to the 6-1 senior’s 31 points, the ride home following their first round PIAA Class A playoff game was a pleasant one.


In a game that featured eight lead changes in a 12-minute span, including five in the first overtime period, it was a 7-0 run in the second overtime, led by Gillaspie’s three-pointer, which propelled Monessen to a 87-78 double-overtime victory over Erie First Christian Academy at Chartiers Valley.


“My nerves were all over the place,” Gillaspie said. “Once that buzzer sounded, I can’t even describe how happy I was. My legs hurt so bad and my elbow has a huge knot in it. I’m glad we got through that.”


The win advances Monessen (21-6) to the second round where it will face Bishop Carroll (26-0), the District 6 champions, on Tuesday at a site and time to be determined.


Gillaspie’s bumps and bruises reflected the style of game the Greyhounds played against EFCA (15-10), which was led by 6-11 senior center Valentine Sangoyami.


For the first three quarters, Monessen played hesitant. While it has been the team’s athleticism and lack of fear that brought it to the state playoffs, Sangoyami’s presence in the lane, along with that of 6-5 senior forward Augustine Mathias, forced the Greyhounds to slow down and second guess the style of basketball they were accustomed to.


“We couldn’t move the ball the way we needed to,” Gillaspie said. “We started panicking and throwing it away.”


Not being able to find an open teammate on offense, Monessen forced the ball inside where Mathias or Sangoyami were ready to swat lob passes and layups away.


It was not until the closing minutes of the fourth quarter when the Greyhounds’ fast-paced offense suddenly awoke. Monessen trailed by as many as nine points in the second half before the back-and-forth game of basketball began. The Greyhounds trailed by one point with under a minute remaining when senior forward Justice Rawlins found Javon Brown open for an easy fast break basket for two of his 18 points.


On the ensuing play, Monessen junior Noah Rullo stole the inbounds pass and set Gillaspie up for an easy layup. The Greyhounds held a three-point lead after the basket before EFCA junior guard Romeo Kabongo, who finished with a team-high 23 points, silenced the Monessen crowd with a three-point er that tied the game with 14 seconds left.


“I knew we were going to have a tough time with this game as soon as I saw our guys in warmups,” Monessne head coach Joe Salvino said. “It translated to the game when we missed free throws, layups and everything else you can imagine.”


Gillaspie added five points during the first overtime, including a layup with 44 seconds remaining to give Monessen a two-point lead, but once again, the Eagles refused to go away. Mathias had a put back to tie the game with 19 seconds remaining to send it into a second overtime.


Luckily for the Greyhounds, Sangoyami, who finished with 14 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks, fouled out in the closing minutes of regulation. Without the 6-11 big man in the lane, Monessen began using its slashing style of play to drive to the lane during the second overtime – including two layups during the 7-0 run that lifted them to the win.


“We dodged a bullet,” Salvino said. “We came through in the end and that’s what we needed, but we did not play well defensively. This is a game we had to get through and hopefully it will help us build momentum.”


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