Deep, talented Franklin Regional golf team poised to take big step forward

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Monday, September 14, 2020 | 4:42 PM


For years, Franklin Regional has watched other teams celebrate section, WPIAL and PIAA titles in boys golf.

The Panthers have fielded talented teams and have often pushed section opponents like Central Catholic and Fox Chapel — WPIAL heavyweights — but they never seemed to be able to overtake them.

“People think we always make the playoffs, but we haven’t been there for a while,” Franklin Regional 12th-year coach Jeff Traphagen said. “But we’ve been close. Central Catholic (3) and Fox Chapel have won the last four WPIAL titles. Fox Chapel won the state title last year by 24 strokes. It’s been the toughest section to compete in.”

There could be a power shift happening in WPIAL Class AAA golf. Franklin Regional, which has waited patiently for its turn to join the elite, looks to have a contender.

“I keep telling the kids their games are good enough to compete with anyone,” Traphagen said. “We belong here. It feels like we could have a chance if we get into the playoffs.”

A team confident in its talent and deep in its lineup is tightening the gap, one shot and match at a time. The Panthers may no longer be hanging on the cusp; they could be on the threshold of the next big step.

Fox Chapel is in a different section and Franklin Regional defeated Central Catholic in the teams’ first meeting, 185-198.

“Fox Chapel leaving was big for our confidence. We have to get over some hurdles,” Traphagen said. “It was tough being in that section. That must have been how Latrobe wrestling felt when they were in the same section as Franklin Regional.”

The Panthers started 5-0 and took second at two highly competitive nonsection events, the Sewickley Invitational and Gary Garrison Invitational at Latrobe Country Club. Sewickley Academy, the seven-time defending WPIAL champion in Class AA, only beat the Panthers by one stroke at the event it hosted.

Suddenly, Franklin Regional is on the path back to the postseason, a place where they have not ventured since 2015 — former star Palmer Jackson’s freshman season and also the last time the Panthers won a section title.

The program has 25 section titles.

“Me and Chuckie (Tragesser) played a lot over the summer, and we always talked about this being our year,” Panthers senior Mike Wareham said. “We had a couple kids play a lot better over the summer and shoot in the mid- to low-70s. We knew that could be a big key for us.”

High school matches, of course, are nine holes, so cut those 70s rounds in half and add the stellar play of Tragesser and Wareham, and the Panthers can take it low.

They were averaging around 184 as a team and were 4-0 and sitting atop the section. The top two teams in each section make the WPIAL playoffs.

“We had five of our top six shoot under par,” Traphagen said after the fifth match. “And another has shot even par. We finally have that depth. It’s tough but also nice when you have to throw out a 37.”

The top five scores count toward a match score.

Tragesser (37.5) and Wareham (36.7), both seniors and fourth-year varsity players, could be carving out their best season. Both have steadily scored in the 30s, but have not had to do all of the heavy lifting.

Juniors Zach Abdallah (39.4) and Jeff Anderchak (38.8), third-year varsity players, also have broken 40 more than once. And newcomer Luke Kimmich (39.1), who doubles as a soccer player for the Panthers, has been a pleasant surprise.

Sophomore Nolan Shilling (38.4) also has contributed low numbers to the lineup.

“We’ve been a top-five team in the WPIAL for a while,” Wareham said. “To finally get to the playoffs would be very special.”

The Panthers have looked sharp on some better courses, but they have been unstoppable at their home venue, Meadowink Golf Course in Murrysville.

When they clubbed Plum there, 182-243, Wareham shot 35 and made an eagle on the par-5 opening hole.

In a 184-252 win over Gateway, Anderchak shot 3-under 33 and Wareham added a 34. And when the Panthers took down Central Catholic, 185-198, Abdallah carded a 35, Shilling 36, Tragesser 37, Kimmich 38 and Wareham 39.

“It all goes back to Palmer (Jackson),” Traphagen said. “They all got to play with him. They saw what a work ethic like his can do.”

Traphagen said Jackson, a sophomore at Notre Dame, recently texted him to see how the team was doing during a match.

Tragesser, who won the Section 4 title last season, finished ninth in the WPIAL and tied for 34th at the PIAA finals, recently logged a top-10 at the Golfweek Junior in Lansing, Mich.

Wareham, a WPIAL finals qualifier last year, has a top-10 at the Tri-State PGA Amateur under his belt.

“Chucky and Michael are our leaders; they’re the guys you see at the top of the leaderboards during the summer,” Traphagen said. “They lead by example. Chucky is really long and has worked hard on his game.”

Franklin Regional wants to extend its reach outside of the county and compete for larger prizes.

The team never has won a WPIAL or PIAA title.

“We won the Westmoreland County Coaches Association (Tournament) four years in a row,” Traphagen said. “They didn’t have that tournament this year so we’d like to bring home some different hardware.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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