Hard-charging Latrobe boys knock off Franklin Regional

Friday, February 3, 2023 | 11:00 PM

The playoff race in WPIAL Section 3-5A boys basketball just got a lot more interesting.

Latrobe was one of the teams throwing wrenches into the works.

The Wildcats clearly aren’t ready to call it a year just yet, as evidenced by their 66-53 win over reeling Franklin Regional on Friday night in Murrysville.

“The margin for error is razor-thin,” Latrobe coach Brad Wetzel said. “We didn’t have to say much. Our guys bucked up.”

The Wildcats (8-12, 3-5) are now tied with Franklin Regional (9-10, 3-5) for fourth place.

The top four make the postseason.

Sophomore John Wetzel had 20 points, senior Landon Butler added 19 and sophomore Max Butler chipped in 10 as Latrobe used a 23-point fourth quarter to pull away from the Panthers, who have dropped seven straight.

The teams split their section series by winning on each other’s court.

“We knew how important this game was,” John Wetzel said. “We needed every guy that came into the game to give us good minutes, and that is what happened.”

Last-place Penn-Trafford (5-15, 2-6) also suddenly has a chance at the postseason after a 60-58 upset of second-place McKeesport (8-9, 5-3).

Gateway (13-5, 7-1) and McKeesport have clinched from the section with one week left in the regular season. Kiski Area(10-10, 4-4) is in third place.

All things considered, Franklin Regional still remains in the chase.

“You never know with our section,” Franklin Regional coach Jesse Reed said. “It’s a dogfight.

“We gave up 66 points. We let them do what they wanted. They got a ton of rebounds and played harder. We didn’t match their intensity tonight.”

Junior Cooper Rankin poured in 26 before fouling out for the Panthers, who played their fifth straight game without junior Cam Rowell, who has a hip injury.

Rankin played his second game since missing three with an ankle injury.

Panthers newcomer Bryson Pavlik, a junior transfer from Gateway, also missed the game with an illness.

With a lack of depth eventually showing through, the Panthers could not stay with the Wildcats late, despite trailing just 28-24 at halftime.

A 16-2 run that began early in the third quarter and carried into the fourth put the Wildcats in command to stay.

The surge followed a third quarter that had six lead changes.

Wetzel keyed the run with a floater in the lane, before Landon and Max Butler each hit a 3.

Latrobe had reactions to match each basket during the charge. Wetzel and Max Butler both screamed “Let’s go,” after their shots fell. Max did so with his nose plugged with gauze.

The celebrations seemed to energize the Wildcats.

“Once we got the chance to hit some shots, we attacked,” John Wetzel said.

The lead went from one to 13 in a flash. The Panthers chipped the margin to 57-50 with just over two minutes to play on a layup by Rankin, who scored 11 straight in the second half.

But junior JaTawn Williams had three straight points, Landon Butler scored off a cut and Max Butler made two free throws to bring the lead to 64-51.

Franklin Regional’s last lead came at 42-41 on a 3 from Rankin.

“We wanted to make them work, and we didn’t do that,” Reed said.

Latrobe went into a few halfcourt sets to make the Panthers work. The rare slowdown by the Wildcats produced a number of quality shots as they shared the ball and worked outside-in.

“Sometimes you need offense to be your best defense,” Brad Wetzel said. “They pulled it out and ran it well.

“Every guy we put in the game did something. Alex Tatsch played the best game of his life.”

Tatsch finished with eight points, and Williams added seven.

Junior Fin Hutchison scored eight for the Panthers. Rankin accounted for nearly half of his team’s points.

“Coop gave us everything he had,” Reed said. “He is coming off an injury, and he hasn’t practiced. We needed more offense from other guys.

“We’re in a tough situation. It’s really bothering me. But we have to work through it.”

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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