Franklin Regional blocks out hype, sets sights on next PIAA opponent

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Saturday, November 9, 2019 | 12:17 AM


There is only one way to deal with all of the hype and pressure that comes with being a nationally ranked soccer team, one that sits three wins away from its first state title.

“Try to ignore it,” Franklin Regional senior forward Nolan Scholze said. “We recognize it, but we don’t want to put a lot of strain on ourselves.”

Franklin Regional (20-0-1), fresh off a WPIAL Class AAA championship repeat and a PIAA first-round victory over Bradford, is navigating through this postseason with more widespread attention and scrutiny than most teams face.

The Panthers, who will take on unbeaten District 10 champion Cathedral Prep (22-0) at 2 p.m. Saturday at Slippery Rock High School’s Rocket Stadium for the second year in a row in the state quarters, are a decorated bunch, rich with talent but equally as grounded.

Not only are they considered one of the top defensive units in the state with 16 shutouts and just six goals allowed — they feel like they’ve let all of Murrysville down when they give up a goal — but they also carry with them the No. 23 ranking in TopDrawerSoccer.com’s national Fab 50.

Scholze said continued consistent play is a necessity for the Panthers, regardless of what number is attached to them. Rankings do not make teams infallible.

“You could be No. 1 in the nation and still lose. It doesn’t matter,” he said.

All this clout is nice, but putting the hype in proper perspective could go a long way for “Franklin Region-NIL.”

“We don’t talk about it. That’s not what we do,” Scholze said. “I mean, we have the coach of the year and he doesn’t even tell us. We had to find out for ourselves. It’s about the next game. One down and three to go.”

Franklin Regional is having one of those runs, with one of those special groups that don’t come along very often.

“We’ve had a couple little chats about (the attention),” said coach Rand Hudson, who has been named WPIAL Class AAA coach of the year two years in a row. “We tell them, ‘Don’t believe your press clippings.’ I’ve said it before that our guys are so level-headed and they don’t get bothered by much. We talked about making it this far and how precious it is. We need to appreciate it.”

Hudson sells houses for a living. His Panthers have lived lavishly for two seasons but know they can’t just show up and win.

Compartmentalizing the state playoff run into 11 days is a strategy Hudson has applied of late.

Each day has its own focus. One day it’s a tactical workout, the next is film watching, and yet another is passing. The idea is to keep the team sharp without looking past vital fundamentals, a step-by-step process that the team hopes comes with a big payoff.

“That’s the max from here to get it done,” the coach said of 11 days. “It can become a grind at this time of year. We’ve been practicing, and I just ask them to give us their attention and their best for an hour and 45 minutes each day.”

Senior midfielder Connor Hudson said the key to unplugging the hype machine is for the Panthers to narrow their focus on the next opponent rather than looking ahead, whether to a possible rematch against WPIAL postseason rival West Allegheny in the semis or a potential trip to Hershey on Nov. 16 for the state finals.

“It’s an honor for us to get all the attention, but we try as hard as we can not to focus on it,” he said. “We know we have to do everything we can and play our hardest to keep winning.”

West Allegheny (15-6-1) plays Lower Dauphin (19-3-1) in another quarterfinal at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Mansion Park Stadium in Altoona. The winner plays either Franklin Regional or Cathedral Prep on Tuesday in the state final four.

The seven seniors on the roster, four of whom were starters during last year’s playoff run for Franklin Regional, have been leaders on and off the field. Once they grasped the fanfare, they tried to pass along a way to deal with it.

“We need to let the younger guys know not to take this for granted,” Connor Hudson said.

Last year, then-junior Jake Sciorilli scored in the 71st minute for the Panthers in a 1-0 win over Cathedral Prep.

“They’re good and will be a big challenge for us,” Rand Hudson said.

Junior midfielder Jack Foht is the big scorer for the Ramblers, who blanked Blackhawk in the PIAA quarterfinals Tuesday, 4-0. He had a hat trick in the win and has a school-record 52 goals on the season.

Cathedral Prep has scored 118 goals and allowed 17.

The Ramblers played one other WPIAL opponent in Deer Lakes, winning 3-2 in overtime.

The Panthers gave up their first run-of-play goal this season in a 6-2 victory over Bradford in the first round. The rest of the scores came on set pieces.

“It was kind of a sloppy game,” Rand Hudson said. “We won because of our talent, not because we were sharp. The goals we scored were magnificent. But the guys noticed I was mad on the sideline when we gave up that goal.”

Franklin Regional is led by sophomore forward Anthony DiFalco, a 30-goal scorer who was named the WPIAL Class AAA player of the year. He scored twice against Bradford and has found the net in every playoff game but one, a 1-0 win over Trinity in the WPIAL quarterfinals.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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