North East, which carried a 4-2 record into Wednesday’s game at Maplewood, returns to its home floor Saturday for a non-league against Harbor Creek.

During the holiday break, North East finished on the short end of a 61-50 tally to West Middlesex in the championship round of the Kiwanis Club Tournament on Dec. 30. The Grapepickers’ ticket to the title game was punched by a 46-45 victory over Neshannock.

“It was like a playoff atmosphere,” North East coach Tom Pyle said of competing against highly rated teams from outside of Erie County on someone else’s floor. West Middlesex hosted the four-team tournament, so North East had to contend with a large partisan crowd in the finale.

Pyle acknowledged that his team didn’t handle that atmosphere very well, but believes the experience has to put his players in a stronger footing to deal with those sorts of distractions if North East reaches the playoffs again.

A poor showing in the second quarter, in which Grapepickers were outscored 22-11, was its undoing against the Big Reds. North East was down just 12-11 after the first period, but got into foul trouble in the second frame and fell behind 34-22 at the half. North East kept pace in the second half, which it won 28-27, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the deficit.

North East shot 32 percent from the field, converting 13 field goals, and sank 16-of-23 shots from the foul line.

West Middlesex tossed in 26 field goals and hit 5-of-11 foul shots.

“It was a double-whammy of not shooting well and a terrible second quarter,” Pyle said. “It all came down to foul trouble. These were unintelligent fouls, far away from the basket.”

Cory Bailey scored a game-high 20 points for Pickers. Also in double figures was Aaron Wakley with 12.

Top scorers for the Big Reds were Jeremy Jansco, 13 and James Gearhart, 11. North East held Matt Dogan, averaging over 20 points per game for West Middlesex, to 7 points.

Team defense was the key to North East’s one-point victory over Neshannock the night before. The game was tight from the start, with North East carving out an 11-9 edge after the first period. Both teams scored 14 and 13 points in the middle frames, respectively, while Neshannock narrowly won the finale, 9-8.

North East took the lead early, stretching it at times to five points, while Neshannock had to play catch-up the entire game, and had two chances to win in the last minute of play.

“I was really pleased with our defense,” Pyle said. “They are a very good basketball team, ranked No. 2 in the WPIAL, which is a pretty strong league in the Pittsburgh area. The thing that helped us was we matched up size-wise; they didn’t have a real dominant big guy that we would have trouble guarding.”

North East shot 37 percent from the field, hitting 18 field goals and 5-of-11 foul shots. Spencer Cornelius and Wakley each had 14 points. Cornelius also had eight rebounds.

Neshannock hit 19 field goals and 4-of-9 foul shots. Brandon Marinelli led the Lancers with 17 points.

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