Franklin Regional boys punch ticket to playoffs with win over Kiski Area

Friday, February 7, 2020 | 10:37 PM

Sometimes, it’s not always how you start, but how you finish that matters.

That statement has rung true for the Franklin Regional boys basketball team (11-11, 8-6) this season, and it rang even louder Friday night. The Panthers overcame a slow first quarter and cruised to a 72-55 victory over Kiski Area (9-12, 6-8), punching their ticket to the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs.

“This means a ton,” said senior Johnny O’Toole, who led the Panthers with 21 points. “This gets us in the playoffs. This is a big win for us. We’ve had a great past three weeks. Games, practices, everything. Our team has improved a ton.”

Since Jan. 11, the Panthers have gone 7-2 after starting their season 3-7. They are a different team compared to what they were, and it showed Friday night.

The Panthers jumped out to a 7-2 lead in the early moments of the game. But led by a seven-point first quarter from junior big man Jason Baker, the Cavaliers climbed back into the game.

For the first eight minutes of the game, Baker and O’Toole went back and forth. The 6-foot-7 Baker used his quickness to get to the rim, and O’Toole used his size and strength to dominate the paint.

“He (O’Toole) made some things one-on-one, but we didn’t want to double him. We wanted to let Jason play him one-on-one,” Kiski Area coach Will Saunders said. “We thought (Baker’s) length would give O’Toole problems, but he, to his credit, made a couple of layups around the rim.”

After the first quarter, Kiski had a 20-19 lead. Saunders said his team felt comfortable offensively, but he still was worried about the pace the Panthers were scoring at.

Franklin Regional validated Saunders’ concerns. They started spreading the ball around in the second quarter, and five players scored. In the final moments before the half, the Panthers forced two turnovers, and Caden Smith hit a layup at the buzzer to cut Kiski Area’s lead to one.

“I thought we came out and did some good things,” Saunders said. “But we didn’t do some smart things, too. The turnover right before the half that cut it to one. Then we turn it over when we were taking the ball out, and it hurt us.”

Throughout the early parts of the second half, the Panthers started to take Baker out of the game after he scored 14 points in the first half. Baker was held scoreless in the third quarter, and the Panthers took advantage.

“We just needed to guard Baker better. We needed to keep him off the boards,” Franklin-Regional coach Steve Scorpion said. “He was dominating us around the rim, and we just needed to get a little tougher and play a little harder defensively.”

After the Panthers picked up their defensive intensity, Baker only scored five points in the second half — all from the free-throw line. But sparked by outside shooting, the Cavaliers kept themselves within striking distance. With just under two-minutes remaining, Max Heinle hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to four.

But the Panthers and junior guard Luke Kimmich sealed the sectional contest from the free-throw line. Kimmich converted 12 of his 14 attempts in the second half, and O’Toole added two more late to seal the victory.

“Now we just gotta keep playing hard. We gotta practice hard,” O’Toole said. “We gotta come back tomorrow and Monday and get ready for playoffs.”

The Panthers will learn their playoff fate Tuesday at the playoff pairings meeting in Green Tree.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at or via Twitter .

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