Fries paces Neshannock to WPIAL playoff win

Feb. 19—The Neshannock High girls basketball team won the first round of the WPIAL playoffs thanks in part to Kaitlyn Fries.

Fries, the lone senior on the fourth-seeded Lady Lancers' roster, took a moment to reflect prior to her team's game against 13th-seeded Brownsville.

"Yesterday, at the end of practice, I was just thinking about how it could be my last practice ever," Fries said. "We talked about it with the team. It's really exciting to be able to win and keep going. Now, we have a shot at states. That's really exciting."

Fries paced Neshannock with a game-high 15 points to help lift the team to a 63-36 WPIAL Class 3A home win on Saturday.

"We take it one game at a time," Neshannock coach Luann Grybowski said. "First, I'm going to talk about Kait Fries. She had a great game. A senior playing the last time on her home floor. Yesterday, she said something about, 'Oh my God, this could be my last practice,' and I said, 'Don't make it your last practice.' She came out on fire today, had our first eight points and just led us to victory.

"The young kids, like I said all year, it's been next man up. We were able to sub and play eight, nine kids and that's the beauty of this group. They cheer for each other...I'm proud of them."

The Lady Lancers (16-7) will face fifth-seeded South Park (16-7) on Wednesday at a time and site to be determined.

It was a sloppy start to the first quarter for both teams. Neshannock had 10 turnovers in the first.

Fries posted eight of the total 10 points the Lady Lancers netted in the first quarter.

"Some of our shots weren't falling. I guess mine just were," Fries said with a chuckle.

Brownsville (12-9) managed to take a three-point lead over Neshannock at the end of the first quarter.

The game was knotted up twice in the second quarter before a bucket from Neshannock's Payton Newman and one from Fries gave their team a three-point lead. With 1:36 remaining in the first half, Grybowski called a timeout to regroup.

"I thought we were just sloppy and not doing what I needed them to do," Grybowski said of the timeout.

Newman chipped in another bucket and a free-throw to give her team a six-point lead at halftime.

Brownsville's Skyler Gates, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, gave the Lady Lancers some issues, but Neshannock's Rian Owens and Ainsley Allison were assigned to defend her.

Owens collided with Brownsville's Zhariah Reed with 5:41 in the third quarter. Neither Owens or Reed came back on to the hardwood for the remainder of the game.

"Poor Rian. That was an awful collision," Grybowski said. "It reminded me of her breaking her nose last year. But, we kept her out as a precaution. She was fine. The other kid was worse off than Rian was. Ainsley came in, stepped up and did a good job."

In the third quarter, the Lady Lancers switched to a full-court press and outscored Brownsville, 22-9.

"We did a really nice job, made some adjustments and the kids played hard," Grybowski said of the third quarter. "We didn't shoot the ball exceptionally well, but we hit the offensive boards. We had Kait with five, Payton with eight and Rian with five (in the third quarter). We had a bunch of offensive rebounds which is great."

Neshannock entered the final quarter with a 46-27 lead. Neshannock's Newman posted eight of her 13 points in the fourth.

"Look, Payton's a hard worker and she can play with the best of them," Grybowski said. "She doesn't realize her full potential. She really has a knack for offensive rebounding and getting the ball to the rim. We're going to really work hard this year on her outside shot because she just doesn't have that confidence shooting it but she needs to get to that point."

Newman also had 11 boards, four steals and four assists. Neshannock's Jaidon Nogay contributed four assists and four steals in the game.

Newman gave Neshannock a 31-point lead with 4:27 remaining in the game to force the mercy rule.