Franklin Regional basketball starts tourney with win vs. Carlynton

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Friday, December 9, 2022 | 10:41 PM


After the postgame handshake line dispersed, Cam Rowell grabbed the microphone at the scorer’s table and shouted into it, “Go Panthers!”

The junior guard was excited after leading his team to a 59-41 victory over Carlynton on Friday night in the Panthers’ opening game of the 19th Mike Rettger Tournament — and their home opener.

Rowell had a game-high 21 points, 16 before halftime, to lead three double-figure scorers as the Panthers (3-0) advanced to take on West Mifflin (1-2) in the championship game at 1 p.m. Saturday.

West Mifflin rallied from an early deficit to get past Baldwin, 82-73.

Carlynton (2-1) will meet Baldwin (2-2) in the consolation at 11:30 a.m.

The Panthers enjoyed the win but had some concerns while keeping their record unblemished. A game that was so well-in-hand on the scoreboard did not feel that way after the first 16 minutes.

“We had a shooting slump in the third quarter but came out and shot it better in the fourth,” Rowell said. “We need to do better with our help defense.

“I am trying to step up and have a bigger leadership role so hopefully I can help us improve where we need to.”

Junior Fin Hutchison added 15 points and junior Cooper Rankin had 11 for Franklin Regional, which kept Carlynton at arm’s length despite a rough third quarter when the Panthers managed just one field goal and were outscored 10-8.

“We didn’t play our best, but we found a way to win,” Panthers coach Jesse Reed said. “We were flat in that third quarter. If we continue to play that way, we’re not going to be as fortunate like we were tonight.”

The Panthers surrendered 20 points in the fourth.

Still, Franklin Regional remained one of the top defensive teams in WPIAL Class 5A early this season. It has allowed 21, 34 and 41 points in three wins.

The Panthers raced to a 16-5 lead after one quarter and ballooned the lead to 31-11 by halftime.

The early equity paid off.

Rowell scored 10 in the first quarter. He and Rankin converted layups off steals to make it 12-3.

Rankin made a layup on a fast-break pass from Hutchison to push the advantage to 27-8, and Josh Hudak finished inside on a feed from Jalen Russell for a 20-point margin at the break.

“I like our energy early, but we needed to keep it up,” Reed said. “We got a little complacent when we got up like that.”

Carlynton, the fifth-ranked team in WPIAL Class A, cut the deficit to 31-18 in the third as the Panthers gave away 10 turnovers, but a Hutchison 3 gave the Panthers confidence heading to the fourth.

Despite Franklin Regional’s sporadic play in the third, the Cougars could only get within 17 in the final period as both teams scored 20 points.

“It seemed like they were getting a lot closer,” Reed said.

Rowell’s 3 gave the Panthers their largest lead, at 50-26, with 5 minutes, 24 seconds to play in the fourth.

Rowell and Hutchison each made a pair of 3s.

Jaiden McClure added nine points for Carlynton, and Austin Milliner added eight.

Franklin Regional made 19 of 25 free throws. Carlynton had 12 two-point field goals.

“We know we can play a lot better than that overall,” Reed said.

“We’ll be back here tomorrow and try to get ourselves back on track.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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