Key injuries send Franklin Regional boys to late-season skid

Thursday, February 9, 2023 | 11:01 AM

Franklin Regional has been banged up, thrown out of rhythm and backed into a corner.

The Panthers are on an eight-game losing streak.

Yet, despite all of that, they can still get into the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs.

“It’s hard to believe,” coach Jesse Reed said. “I have never been a part of anything like it. It keeps me up at night.”

Reed has been looking for his team to get healthy for a playoff push, but he isn’t holding his breath for a full-strength rotation. He has been exhaling every time his team finished another game without any further damage.

“It’s been tough, but our guys are toughing it out,” Reed said. “We have had guys step up and take on big roles for us. That takes time to get everybody on the same page. You’re constantly trying to find that chemistry.

“It’s hard because there are things happening that are out of your control.”

Key starters Cam Rowell (hip) and Cooper Rankin (ankle) have missed several games late in the regular season. Both were averaging 15 points a game for the Panthers (9-11, 3-6), who are in a three-way tie for fourth in Section 3-5A heading into the final night of the regular season.

They play at McKeesport on Friday night. If they win, they’ll clinch a playoff spot. If they lose for the ninth straight time, they still might get in.

A loss Monday against Norwin could mean a 10-game skid heading into the postseason. Stranger-than-fiction kind of stuff.

Latrobe and Penn-Trafford also are tied for fourth. All three teams are 1-1 against each other so, if they finish tied, they all will qualify.

While Rankin returned, Rowell could miss more time.

“We’re looking for guys to light a spark,” Reed said. “We have to play a full 32 minutes with the guys we have. We have to keep playing hard and grinding it out.”

The Panthers fell to 0-5 without Rowell and Rankin with a 66-53 loss to Latrobe. Rankin had 26 in his second game back.

That followed a 66-49 loss to Kiski Area.

Then, the Panthers fell to Gateway, 62-43, despite 30 points and five 3-pointers from Rankin.

Junior guard Fin Hutchison has been a bright spot as he seeks an elevated role. He poured in 25 points, including seven 3-pointers, in a 66-52 loss to Belle Vernon at the Shootout at Seton Hill.

The Panthers played with the Leopards for much of the game before fading late.

“I was feeling kind of down early in the season and wasn’t playing well,” Hutchison said. “But over the past month, everything is elevated. I am happier and more confident.”

Senior 6-foot-8 center Max Leven also is trying to find more rhythm in the lineup. He had 11 points in the loss to Kiski Area.

Junior Bryson Pavlik, an in-season transfer from Gateway, has given the offense a lift, while sophomore Connor Crossey has also taken on an increased role.

Pavlik missed the Latrobe game.

Senior Jake Kimmich is a calming presence in the backcourt.

“We’ve been doing a little better and playing better as a team,” Hutchison said. “(The scoring) is more scattered. It doesn’t matter who scores, as long as we win. It helps to have a little (success) because it shows we can do it.”

While losses to Shaler and Belle Vernon were glancing blows, a 55-40 loss to Penn-Trafford was a left hook that had the Panthers reeling.

“We got our teeth kicked in,” Reed said bluntly. “When we were (3-0 in section play) … we were 9-3 and hadn’t played our best basketball yet. If you would have told me we’d be in this situation, I would have said you were crazy.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .


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