Giacobbe, Upper St. Clair outduel Franklin Regional in PIHL Class AA semifinals

Wednesday, March 13, 2019 | 11:58 PM

Upper St. Clair’s Quinn Giacobbe and Franklin Regional’s Olda Virag put on a show within a show Wednesday night.

The two seniors both scored four goals for their team, but Giacobbe’s final one was the biggest. He found the back of the net with 8 minutes, 53 seconds left in overtime to give his Panthers a wild 9-8 victory in a PIHL Penguins Cup Class AA semifinal at RMU Island Sports Center.

Upper St. Clair (16-3-2) advances to Monday’s Penguins Cup championship against Pine-Richland (20-0-1), a 5-2 winner over Latrobe, at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex at 8:30 p.m.

“This is awesome. I’ve never been to a Penguin Cup, so it’s really special for me and the younger players,” Giacobbe said. “This was a little nerve-wracking, but we found a way.”

Virag led Franklin Regional (12-7-1) with four goals, but Giacobbe tallied four of his own and added two assists to help his team capture the victory.

“It really was a team effort, though,” he said. “We were down, as we were the last time we played Franklin Regional, but we found a way to bounce back and put a couple in the net.”

Upper St. Clair coach Justin Becinski was thrilled with Giacobbe’s performance.

“He took it to a whole different level tonight. He said he didn’t want to lose his senior year before making it to the Penguins Cup. That’s what he set out to do and that’s what he did,” he said. “On the winning goal, it was a lucky bounce — it came out into the slot and ‘Gio’ put it home, and that’s what we needed.”

The goal capped a back-and-forth evening.

“We said that it’d be a battle from the beginning. Both times we played them before, it was a tight game,” Becinski said. “The kids just never gave up.”

Franklin Regional missed out on its third Penguins Cup championship game appearance in four years. The team won Class A titles in 2016 and ’17.

Giacobbe needed just 11 seconds to give Upper St. Clair a 1-0 lead when he found the back of the net. However, Virag tied it 3:09 later. Devin Rohrich put Upper St. Clair ahead again, when he scored off a rebound for a 2-1 edge with 9:44 left in the period. Virag tied it again, 2-2, when his wrister sailed into the goal with 2:44 remaining.

Virag netted his third goal 2:57 into the second. However, he picked up a boarding minor and a 10-minute misconduct following a big hit with 11:51 left in the second. Upper St. Clair took advantage of the power play as Colton Shiry fired a shot from the far boards into the goal to tie it at 3-all with 10:07 left in the second.

Even with Virag off the ice for the rest of the second, Franklin Regional pulled ahead with a pair of goals 1:52 apart. Jacob Rettger got the first one on a rebound with 5:42 left in the second and Trent Lunden added the other with 3:50 on the clock. Giacobbe responded eight seconds later to trim Upper St. Clair’s deficit to 5-4 with 3:42 remaining in the second.

The third period opened with a flurry of goals. Upper St. Clair scored three times in the first 2:32, sandwiched around Virag’s fourth, to post a 7-6 advantage. Chase Wucher, Joseph Pulit and Rohrich all cashed in during the spree.

Franklin Regional’s Zach Abdallah scored to tie the game at 7-all with 9:19 remaining.

Shiry slipped through the Franklin Regional defense and the puck deflected off Giacobbe’s skate and trickled into the net with 3:03 left for an 8-7 Upper St. Clair lead.

With the goalie pulled, Franklin Regional tied it with 29.4 seconds left on Mathieu Sliva’s goal.

“It really was deflating,” Giacobbe said. “We bounced right back, though, and got back playing our regular game and got the win.”

Giacobbe sealed it with his fourth goal with 8:53 left in overtime.

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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