Franklin Regional boys rally in 4th quarter to defeat Armstrong

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Saturday, February 27, 2021 | 5:22 PM


Franklin Regional scored three points in the third quarter and surrendered the lead for the first time to that point against visiting Armstrong.

Some teams might have withered at the lack of offense and shift in momentum, especially in a playoff atmosphere.

Not Franklin Regional.

“We weren’t losing this game, at home, in the playoffs,” Panthers coach Steve Scorpion said. “We were a completely different team in the fourth quarter.”

The 12-seeded Panthers erupted for 22 points in the final quarter and raced past No. 21 Armstrong, 49-43, in a WPIAL Class 5A preliminary-round playoff game Saturday afternoon in Murrysville.

Franklin Regional (8-7) advances to play at No. 5 Mars (14-3) 6 p.m. Wednesday in the first round. The programs were section opponents in recent years and met in the 2018 WPIAL title game.

To advance, Franklin Regional kicked its offense into high gear. It rattled off 15 straight points to erase a five-point deficit against Armstrong and flipped its postseason opener in its favor.

“Coach Scorp always is there to get us fired up,” said Panthers junior guard Caden Smith, who was one of three Panthers to score in double figures with 14 points — on his birthday. “We all had to keep each other up. We knew we could make a run.”

Armstrong (8-7) went ahead 29-27 on a 3-pointer from the left wing by freshman guard Jack Valasek with just more than a minute left in the third. Then, to open the fourth, River Hawks 6-foot-4 sophomore Cadin Olsen finished a three-point play for a 32-27 advantage.

With its ability to score stuck in neutral, partly because of stale possessions and what tireless Armstrong was doing defensively, Franklin Regional finally made its move.

Senior guard Jeffrey Downs kickstarted the run, senior guard Luke Kimmich hit a 3-pointer and senior forward Kadyn Hannah made a pair of field goals — one on a fast-break layup — to put the Panthers back in control.

“In the fourth quarter, our guys made a decision,” Scorpion said. “It wasn’t an X’s and O’s thing. We just played harder and wanted it more. I think we got more deflections in the first four minutes of the fourth than we had all game.”

Hannah rested a sore ankle in the regular-season finale at Penn-Trafford, and Smith also sat out. Both returned in full force and contributed to the winning rally.

Hannah had a game-high 16 points, and Kimmich added 10.

“When we got down five, we knew we’d be going home if we didn’t do something and win this,” Kimmich said.

Kimmich scored inside, and Hannah dashed in for a layup on an assist from senior forward Luke Treloar to give Franklin Regional a 42-32 lead with 2 minutes, 50 seconds left.

Armstrong never recovered, despite late 3s from Olsen, Valasek and senior center Cole Brown.

“Our guys put it all on the line today — there isn’t much you can say,” Armstrong coach Brian Kovolovsky said. “We hadn’t allowed them to get run-outs all game, then they started to get them (late). A minute into the fourth, the wheels came off.”

Hannah and Smith kept the Panthers in command with consecutive breakaways. Smith dunked with 1:55 left to make it 46-37.

“We got some good minutes from our bench guys, too,” Scorpion said.

The River Hawks made seven 3s.

Valasek scored 15, senior guard Adam Hudak had 11 and Olsen chipped in nine.

Armstrong, formed in 2015 by the merger of Ford City and Kittanning, completed the first winning season in program history.

“Our kids gave us every ounce of what they had, for all 32 minutes,” Kovolovsky said. “We wanted to change the culture and we’re working to do that.”

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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