Franklin Regional boys enter playoffs with high hopes

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Monday, February 12, 2018 | 11:00 PM


When Franklin Regional first-year coach Steve Scorpion initially met with his boys basketball team before the season, he wasted no time in setting high expectations.

“When we had our team meeting the very first day of practice … I said these are our three goals: Goal one is to win a section. The second goal was to win the WPIAL, and the third goal was to win the state. We always came back to that.”

The first goal has been achieved: The Panthers clinched a share of the Section 3-5A title with a 9-1 mark. Franklin Regional secured the crown with a 67-51 triumph Feb. 6 at home against Greensburg Salem.

That contest carried extra importance, not only because the Panthers were seeking their first section title in 10 years, but also because senior Nate Leopold was closing in on a personal milestone. Leopold, an all-section player last season, surpassed 1,000 career points on a basket in the second quarter.

Scorpion, who invited grade-school players to the game to witness the historic moments, said his team avoided the distractions to play well against a gritty Golden Lions squad.

“They handled it better than a lot of kids probably would,” he said. “They just went out and played.”

That rang true for the Panthers throughout the campaign.

“I know everyone has personal individual goals, but you got to put the team goals first and let everything else fall into place,” Scorpion said he told his players at the first practice. “These kids from that point on always put the team goals first and did whatever we asked them to do to win.”

Leopold and Nate Stonecheck were prime examples of that. After both earned all-section accolades, they could've easily become fixated on boosting their scoring output or catching the eyes of college scouts. Instead, the seniors set the tone for selfless play and have met the higher expectations placed upon them by Scorpion.

“Whenever we struggled as a team, I always came back to those two, and they understood it and they handled it and they picked it up and they led us,” Scorpion said.

Nick Leopold, Mike Bartolacci and Aidan Sadoski are the other fixtures in the Panthers' starting lineup. Franklin Regional also has displayed its depth, at times utilizing 11 players in the rotation. Those reserves include Jake Rosenberg, Aidan Wiley, Adam Rudzinski, Johnny O'Toole, Jake Williams and Thomas Merante.

“It was nice to see so many guys step up, and that made it easier and kind of took some pressure off of Hunter and Nate,” Scorpion said.

Scorpion was quick to credit previous coach Brad Midgley for setting the foundation. Midgley resigned in April after eight seasons at Franklin Regional, during which he won 84 games.

“Coach Midgley deserves as much credit as everyone else, because he had this program going in the right direction. These are all his kids,” Scorpion said.

After the section slate wrapped up, the Panthers played another 5A section champion, McKeesport, on Friday. Scorpion said the Tigers were a good test for the Panthers, and called it a “seeding game” with the playoffs on the horizon.

Leopold had 16 points, and Sadoski added 14 as Franklin Regional (17-4) won 69-60.

Now the Panthers turn their attention to their second goal, with their sights set on capturing the first district title in team history.

Scorpion pointed to his team's ability to adjust to different styles of play as a key to postseason success. He also highlighted two particular areas, defense and rebounding, as crucial factors to achieving their remaining objectives.

“You might not always shoot the ball well in certain gyms, or the atmosphere might be (different), but as long as you can defend and rebound, you're always going to give yourself a chance to win,” he said.

The WPIAL playoffs are slated to begin Friday.

Sean Meyers is a freelance writer.

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