Franklin Regional keeps rolling, beats Gateway in quarters

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Thursday, February 22, 2024 | 11:03 PM


Cam Rowell caught the basketball on the wing, squared up and fired.

His 3-pointer splashed down just before the buzzer sounded to end the third quarter, and the Franklin Regional senior guard held his shooting hand in the air, his body frozen in a shooter’s pose.

“I held it up there, I saw the whole team going crazy,” Rowell said. “That’s when I knew we were going to win.”

The Panthers’ big shot hit the game’s biggest shot.

Rowell’s 3 propelled the No. 2-seed Panthers to a decisive fourth quarter and they pulled away to defeat No. 7 Gateway, 53-35, at Norwin to advance to the WPIAL boys basketball semifinals for the first time since 2017-18.

“Cam makes big plays,” Panthers coach Jesse Reed said. “That was big shot. It gave us some life, some juice.”

Franklin Regional (22-2), which has won 11 in a row, will play No. 3 Shaler (22-2) in the Class 5A semifinals Monday at a time and site to be announced.

The Panthers edged past Shaler in overtime, 72-62, on Jan. 19.

The Panthers beat neighboring Gateway (17-7) two out of three times after they split two section games. The Gators will move into the consolation bracket to play for a PIAA spot.

“Once we were able to speed up the game, there was no looking back,” said Rowell, who scored a game-high 21 points.

Senior guard Cooper Rankin, who scored 19 for the Panthers, agreed the shift in momentum was because of a shift in tempo.

“Cam’s shot got us going,” Rankin said. “We were playing more their pace. We came in at halftime and said we wanted to push the pace. We made them work defensively.”

The teams grinded to an 18-18 tie at halftime before offense began to spike for the Panthers.

With Gateway up 26-25 early in the third, Rowell hit a 3 and Rankin hit two driving layups to help the Panthers regain control.

It was 33-28 early in the fourth, but the Panthers revved up their transition game and began to create distance, eventually running out to a 20-point lead (53-33) as Rowell and Rankin finished several trips to the rim and senior Colin Masten put back a rebound.

Senior Connor Crossey gave the Panthers their first double-digit lead (38-28) on a 3 with 6 minutes, 50 seconds to play.

All the while, Rowell was blocking two shots and the Panthers were pulling down rebounds to limit Gateway’s chances.

Franklin Regional outscored the Gators in the fourth 18-8.

The Gators, whose largest lead was four points, battled foul trouble early but stayed close for the better part of three quarters.

“They did whatever they wanted to,” Gateway coach Alvis Rogers said of Franklin Regional. “We felt good tied at halftime. Midway through the third quarter … we stopped competing. We had no answer for them there.”

Senior Bryson Pavlik led Gateway with 10 points.

“We had some big shots and big rebounds,” Reed said. “I am so happy for our guys. We’re not done yet.”

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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