Latrobe boys basketball gets thrilling victory vs. Franklin Regional

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Wednesday, February 17, 2021 | 10:29 PM


Ryan Sickenberger thought the ball might miss the rim completely when he double-clutched and launched a desperation 3-pointer as the final seconds ticked off.

“Frankie (Newill) set a great screen,” the Latrobe senior lefty guard said. “I was just looking for a shot. I thought it was a little flat. I was just trying to get it off … I didn’t realize it was that on line.”

Sickenberger’s heave, from about three feet outside the 3-point arc — left elbow with three defenders closing in around him — splashed down and gave the Wildcats a thrilling, 56-53 victory over visiting Franklin Regional in Section 3-5A on Wednesday night, senior night for the Wildcats.

Sickenberger and his brother, Chase, have had a flair for the dramatic. Ryan hit a winner against Woodland Hills, and Chase made a 3 to stun McKeesport at the buzzer.

“It’s all about repetition for us,” said Ryan Sickenberger, who had a game-high 17 points.

“They’re all big shots for me.”

Said Latrobe coach Brad Wetzel: “Ryan was making that shot last July. He shoots thousands of shots a day.”

The win shows how far Latrobe (6-5, 6-3) has come since its first showdown with Franklin Regional, the first Class 5A opponent the Wildcats faced after moving down one classification.

Examples?

Senior Drew Clair didn’t play in that game but played an important role in the rematch. He fouled out with nine points.

Junior Chase Sickenberger played solid defense on Franklin Regional leading scorer and 6-foot-4 forward Kadyn Hannah, who was held to 14 points.

And the Wildcats challenged shots from the Panthers time and again. Nothing came easy.

“I thought our speed was a big difference,” Wetzel said. “And we stifled them defensively.”

Second-place Franklin Regional handled the Wildcats, 68-38, a 5A welcome that stung back on Jan. 8.

But a still-raw lineup that was missing chemistry and key players found a rhythm as the Wildcats went 5-3 since. The Wildcats upended McKeesport twice in high-scoring finishes and took Class 6A No. 4 Hempfield to overtime before falling 71-68.

“We have really good chemistry in school and out of school,” said Latrobe sophomore Landon Butler, who had 16 points. “We ran the right play for Ryan, and he finished.”

It has been a strange, windy road, meanwhile, for Franklin Regional since the last time it played Latrobe. There were two thrilling wins over McKeesport, book-ended around a covid-19 shutdown that lasted 10 days on the schedule.

And there was that head-scratching 61-28 loss to Gateway, a team the Panthers beat earlier, 63-54. They had that many with six minutes left in the first half in this game.

“You have to give (Ryan Sickenberger) credit,” Panthers coach Steve Scorpion said.

“It was a good shot. Lucky shot. Clutch shot. All-the-above shot. I guess it’s a positive that, after all that, it took a shot like that to beat us. It’s disappointing when you beat yourself and that’s what we did.

Senior Luke Kimmich made 1 of 2 free throws with 25.5 seconds to make it 53-52, but Franklin Regional (5-4, 5-2) committed the 10th foul on the Wildcats, sending Newill to the line with 25 seconds. He also made 1 of 2 to tie it 53-53.

After a Franklin Regional turnover, the Wildcats got the ball back with 6 seconds left, and Ryan Sickenberger went the length of the floor before pulling up for his winner.

“We counted at least 18 turnovers, and we missed nine free throws,” Scorpion said. “And we gave up seven or eight offensive rebounds. That can’t happen.”

Junior Caden Smith, who scored a career-high 33 points in a 77-69 win over McKeesport, had 12 points in the first half in this rematch as the Panthers took a 34-29 lead into the break. He finished with 13, and Kimmich had 11.

Franklin Regional led by eight in the second quarter and led most of the third. But Latrobe regained the edge early in the fourth before four lead changes and two ties inside the final five minutes.

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

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