Franklin Regional surging with energy as playoff near

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Monday, February 12, 2018 | 4:57 PM


Franklin Regional's run to its first boys basketball section championship in a decade started last March at neighboring Plum.

At least that's when the team believed the accomplishment was possible.

The Panthers spoiled WPIAL champion Moon's chances at an accompanying state title with a rousing, 52-51 upset of the Tigers in a PIAA first-round game.

With a host of talent returning, the Panthers (17-3) should have been red-flagged as a contender in Class 5A.

“We knew last year we had talent,” senior guard Nate Leopold said. “We had all kinds of injuries and didn't really get healthy until the end of the year. We beat Moon and we knew coming back here with that confidence that we can beat anybody when we want to play. We have more goals to go. We have a long road ahead of us.”

The Section 3 co-champions will learn if the WPIAL feels that way about them Tuesday night when the league unveils playoff pairings in Green Tree.

Highlands tied Franklin Regional so both teams will receive plaques. Only one of them is likely to draw a top-5 seed.

The Trib Top 5 in Class 5A last week had Mars at No. 1, McKeesport 2, Trinity 3, Moon 4 and Highlands 5.

Franklin Regional knocked off McKeesport on Friday, 69-60.

“There is a fine line between confidence and cockiness,” Greensburg Salem coach Craig Mankins said. “And (Franklin Regional) is very confident. Coach (Steve) Scorpion has them in a real good spot. They are going to be a very difficult out in the playoffs. I'm glad we don't have to play them first. Playing Franklin (Regional), Highlands, Gateway, and all the teams in our section is going to prep us for these other sections that we're going to play.”

Franklin Regional had the potential to put a playoff run in motion but don't look for that to happen with expressionless faces on the court.

The Panthers have become a more energetic group this season, a reflection of first-year coach Steve Scorpion, who played with a fiery style when he was at Franklin Regional and Pitt-Johnstown.

Fist-bumps and hip-bumps have become the norm after big plays and wins; seniors Leopold and Mike Bartolacci the first to turn up the volume.

“We love coach Scorp's energy,” Leopold said. “About five games ago, we were kind of dead on energy and kind of walked through the first quarter. And then before the Armstrong game, he started bouncing around before the game and now we've done it the last few games and we've really fed off his energy.”

Leopold said he has seen a steady improvement in the program, a slow build to the brim.

“We were really bad my freshman year, we were a little better my sophomore and junior year; we just missed the section championship, but this year we got it,” Leopold said. “We have been talking about (this group) since we were in seventh grade.”

With six classifications, brackets in most cases will once again be smaller: 12 teams instead of 16, with the top four seeds in each receiving first-round byes.

The WPIAL finals will be March 1-3 at Pitt's Petersen Events Center.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.

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