Experience pays for Franklin Regional in playoff win over Thomas Jefferson

Monday, February 18, 2019 | 10:12 PM

In WPIAL basketball, playoff experience knows no bounds.

Its importance can’t be overstated, its benefits can be immense.

Franklin Regional only has one player with substantial experience from last year’s Class 5A runner-up finish in senior guard Nick Leopold.

But experience will come with time for his teammates, who were hardened by a tough regular season and took their first step in a new postseason on Monday night.

Sixth-seeded Franklin Regional still had a varnished look to it in its first-round game as it took down No. 11 Thomas Jefferson, 66-41, at Norwin.

Players who logged valuable minutes during last year’s WPIAL Class 5A runner-up finish contributed, and others who are getting their first taste of the postseason chipped in heavily as the Panthers (17-6) advanced to play No. 3 Moon (21-1) in the quarterfinals on Friday.

“As inexperienced as we are, we have seniors,” Panthers coach Steve Scorpion said. “They all were a part of it last year, they were there at practice every day, on the bench during games and a part of it, so they did get a taste of it. But we played at Kennedy Catholic, we played Pine-Richland, at Mars, at Shaler, so we have been in some pretty big games. Playoffs are a little different. But I thought we prepared ourselves for these kind of games.”

Leopold scored 15, senior Thomas Merante added 13, junior Logan Summerhill 12, and senior Aidan Wiley 10 for the Panthers, whose tough nonsection schedule — and two section games against top-seeded Mars — helped prepare them for the postseason.

Summerhill was a contributor in waiting last year and soaked up every drop of what he witnessed from his teammates.

“We have to play hard every game,” Summerhill said. “We have to do better than last year; we fell short at the Pete, but this year we’re coming back and getting it. We have a ton of energy and passion, on the bench and on the court. That’s what gets us going.”

Thomas Jefferson (11-11), which did not qualify for the playoffs last season after posting only five wins, could not muster much offense against pressure defense.

With the Jaguars punchless in the third, Franklin Regional extended its lead.

Leopold hit a 3-pointer from the corner with 4:56 left in the third quarter to stretch the Panthers’ lead to 42-19, then knocked down another 3 to make it 47-22.

Free throws in the fourth allowed them to increase the advantage to 59-30.

“We played hard and defended,” Scorpion said. “We didn’t force too many shots. The biggest things were energy and effort.”

Thomas Jefferson went more than three minutes without a field goal in the fourth.

Summerhill tried a dunk earlier in the night, but the ball rattled around and he settled for a glorified layup.

His second chance for a jam was much better: he stuffed it through from a standing position and it was 62-33 with about four minutes to play.

“I felt good today,” Summerhill said. “I thought I could go up and see if I could get a couple.”

Summerhill had an alley-oop dunk from Leopold earlier this year against Indiana.

Thomas Jefferson went nearly six minutes without a field goal in the fourth.

The Panthers took a 33-18 lead into halftime on the strength of transition points and crisp passing.

A 23-point second quarter saw some high-percentage shots around the rim, and effective baseline drives, by Leopold, Merante and Summerhill.

Leopold’s driving layup gave the Panthers their first double-digit lead, at 19-8.

That came after he delivered a spot-on lob pass to Summerhill for an easy lay-in.

Leopold also scored on a coast-to-coast layup and made one of his team’s three 3-pointers in the quarter.

Franklin Regional, which came in allowing just 47.7 points per game, held the Jaguars to five points in the first quarter.

Mars came back from a 14-point deficit to clip the Panthers earlier in the season. Scorpion knows his team can’t let its foot off the gas pedal.

“After the Mars game, nothing is over until it’s over,” Scorpion said. “That’s always in the back of our minds, how we lost that game. No let-ups. Thomas Jefferson really gets after it and competes. We needed to match their intensity and effort, and even bring more. Tonight, we did that.”

James Martinis scored eight points, while Jake Pugh and Noah Pierce had seven apiece for Thomas Jefferson.

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