Franklin Regional boys rally in fourth quarter to defeat Shaler

Friday, January 11, 2019 | 9:54 PM

Nick Leopold feels lucky.

The senior point guard for Franklin Regional’s boys basketball team knows opponents have to be a model of offensive efficiency to beat the Panthers.

When Leopold was off to a horrid start shooting Friday night, there was no need to panic. The defense picked up Leopold, who was 1 of 6 shooting after the third quarter during a 62-57 Section 3-5A win over Shaler on Friday night.

During a game in which Franklin Regional gained control of second place in the section, Leopold would finish with 20, scoring 18 fourth-quarter points to help the Panthers erase a three-point deficit.

“Nick’s a tough kid,” Panthers coach Steve Scorpion said. “I don’t ever worry about Nick. He started for us every game last year and every game this year. Obviously, he’s our guy. We go as he goes.”

Finding more success from the field required a more relaxed approach.

“We really just made it simpler for us,” Leopold said. “Instead of trying to run plays, we started to run high-ball screens and let me get in the lane and kick to our shooters.”

The Panthers (10-3, 5-1) were struggling in the third quarter after taking a 23-22 lead at halftime. Thanks to some strong shooting from Mekhi Reynolds, who led Shaler with 21 points, the Titans (9-4, 4-2) surged after the break.

A 3-pointer from Justin DeSabato with 1 minute, 26 seconds left in the third had Shaler ahead by a game-high seven, 35-28.

But the Titans weren’t able to push the pace. When Shaler, which averaged 70.3 points, started tangling with Franklin Regional’s zone, the Titans settled into the pace.

It was exactly the opposite of what Shaler coach Rob Niederberger wanted to see.

Desabato (13 points) and Colton Schott (10) also finished in double figures for Shaler.

“I thought we played at their place for a lot of the game,” Niederberger said. “We’re trying to play fast and we played at their pace It’s like we saw zone and though, ‘Oh, we better slow down.’ ”

Once Shaler’s shots stopped falling, Franklin Regional’s resurgence started early in the fourth.

“That’s our philosophy: When we aren’t shooting well on offense and not playing well on offense, we want to dig down on defense,” Leopold said. “Defense sparks everything for us.”

Thomas Merante, who scored a game-high 24 points, made a 3-pointer to put the Panthers ahead for good, 41-39, with 5:53 remaining. Merante made five 3-pointers and shot 50 percent (8 of 16) from the field.

Leopold followed with two free throws to cap a 9-0 run.

“I told them at the end of the third quarter, it was going to come down to getting stops,” Scorpion said. “If we want to win this game, then we have to get after it defensively. From that point on, I thought we did a good job of getting multiple stops back to back.”

Josh Rizzo is a freelance writer.

ljanga is a Tribune-Review freelancer. You can contact ljanga at [email protected].

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