BY MIKE LONGO JR.
We can officially close the book on the 2022-23 high school basketball regular season. In doing so, it was a bit difficult trying to select a game to cover, as many area teams are headed to the playoffs.
My selection process was simplistic, old-fashioned even. I separately wrote down all schools in our coverage area, with both male and female teams, there were 14 pieces of paper. I tossed all 14 in a hat, reached in and yanked out a winner. Turns out the basketball gods were smiling on me as the Moon Area boys team was the draw.
The matchup was against their arch-rivals from West Allegheny. It was also Senior Night and two Tigers were honored, Maxwell Depner and Luca Michnowicz. However, on this night Moon's Elijah Guillory, a D1 prospect stole the show with a game-high 26 points in the win.
Guillory opened the scoring with a foul shot and it took three minutes for the first basket from the floor, a 3-pointer by the West A Indians. Around the five-minute mark, Guillory made Moon’s first shot from the floor tying the game at three.
In a back-and-forth, the first quarter was full of missed shots, turnovers and fouls. Moon held a slim one-point 12-11 lead at the close. Both teams continued sloppy play in the second which saw West Allegheny net another 11 points as the Tigers dropped in 14. At the break, it was Moon holding a four-point edge, 26-22.
The third quarter was not kind to the Tigers as they were outscored and out-hustled by the Indians netting only seven points while giving up 12. That was due in large part to being ice-cold shooting, coupled with a poor defensive effort as turnovers and fouls plagued the Tigers. The quarter closed with West A clinging to a one-point lead, 34-33.
A very vocal first-year Tigers coach, Gino Palmosino, was very clear on what he expected from his team in the last stanza. Speaking during the break, he asked for more hustle, less fouls, better shot selection and pressure defense.
"This game will come down to the final eight minutes. Whoever defends, rotates correctly, gets stops, I think will win this game," said Palmosino.
Starting off a bit sluggish, his squad responded in rousing fashion saving their best quarter for the end.
Although it took Moon three minutes into the final quarter to get their game in gear, it was fortunate the Indians didn't score a point either. Senior Depner hit a jump shot giving the Tigers the lead 35-34 with five minutes left in the contest. That basket started an 11-0 run for the Tigers.
In a bizarre twist to the contest, West Allegheny was called for consecutive technical fouls and would pick up a third in the game's closing seconds resulting in more Moon points. For almost all of the final stanza, the Tigers held the Indians scoreless, not allowing West Allegheny a basket until 1:21 left in the contest as they hit a three-point shot.
Trailing 44-37, West Allegheny had no choice but to foul Moon in the hopes they would miss and the Indians could regain control. The closest they would come was four points, 45-41.
However, Moon sealed the deal by converting from the charity stripe at the end of the contest scoring 21 points as they held the Indians to 11 en route to the 54-45 victory.
"It wasn't pretty," said Moon Area’s Palmosino. "At the end of the day, we're in (playoffs). It's a brutal section night in and night out, so we're fortunate enough to get this team back to the playoffs and hopefully make a run."
Palmosino knows a little something about winning in the playoffs and becoming a champion as he led Bishop Canevin to a WPIAL Championship last year in Class 1A.