Franklin Regional girls basketball impressive in win vs. Belle Vernon

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Thursday, February 9, 2023 | 11:18 PM


Franklin Regional did not qualify for the WPIAL girls basketball playoffs, but you would have thought the team won a championship after the final buzzer sounded Thursday night.

The players yelled, squirted water bottles and giggled as they left the court.

Whether it’s a case of a team peaking too late or simply making the most of what’s left to the season, the Lady Panthers played one of their best games of the year as they downed Belle Vernon, 63-52, to cap senior night in Murrysville.

“It’s like they won the Super Bowl when they win,” Franklin Regional coach Bernie Pucka said. “Every time there is a reason, they step up. It’s always about (winning) the next one.”

What’s the next best thing to making the playoffs?

“This,” Pucka said. “This game is a representation of how special these girls are and how much they want to win and play for each other. It pains me to think about how close we were to the playoffs, but the girls are upbeat and want to win the rest of our games.”

Franklin Regional (8-13) made eight 3-pointers, five from senior Sarah Penrod and three from senior Avery Musto, to pull past the Leopards.

Penrod, a Pitt-Greensburg commit, finished with a game-high 25 points, 10 in the fourth quarter, and Musto added 11.

Belle Vernon (14-8), a Class 4A playoff team that is ranked No. 5 in that classification, has dropped two in a row after a seven-game winning streak.

The other loss came against Section 3 champion Elizabeth Forward, 58-26, on an uncharacteristically flat shooting night by the Leopards.

This time, in its final regular-season game, Belle Vernon rallied from 16 down (38-24) in the third quarter to get within six (51-45) with about five minutes to play.

But they couldn’t come all the way back.

“We got down but we didn’t quit,” Leopards coach Kaitlyn Slagus said. “The girls didn’t put their heads down and kept playing hard. Franklin Regional played well.”

Every time the Leopards made a run, Penrod clapped back.

After senior forward Farah Reader scored inside to get the Leopards within 48-42, Penrod fired in a 3.

“Losing was not an option,” Penrod said. “It was senior night, we had playoffs cut short. We want to go out on a high note. We want to win our last three games.”

After senior guard Jenna Dawson hit a short jumper, Penrod banged in a 3.

“She means so much to this team,” Pucka said of Penrod. “I am going to miss her so much. I love her like a daughter.”

Penrod’s final 3 made it 54-45 with 3:51 to play.

Reader made another tough shot inside, and Dawson hit a driving layup to make it 56-49.

But the Panthers pulled away with free throws, making 4 of 6 inside the final minute.

Reader finished with a season-high 20 points, and Dawson scored 10.

After taking a 27-18 lead into halftime, the Panthers stretched the margin to double figures in the third as Musto hit a 3, and junior Olivia Orndoff, senior Brooke Schirmer, and senior Sarah Holt had baskets.

Senior Sophia Yaniga came off the bench and contributed five straight points in the third to put the Panthers up 42-28.

“We didn’t guard well,” Slagus said. “We didn’t lock in on the defensive end. We have to work on improving that (for the playoffs).”

Schirmer finished with seven points.

Junior point guard Tessa Rodriguez had as many points as she had assists, with eight.

Junior Kenzi Seliga played early for Belle Vernon before leaving the game limping. She did not return.

Senior center Lilly Kerns did not play for the Leopards.

Franklin Regional’s last game is Monday at home against Penn-Trafford.

Belle Vernon will await Monday’s playoff pairings reveal.

“You never know what the WPIAL is going to do,” Slagus said. “We know how powerful some of the other (4A) sections are.”

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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