Latrobe steels nerves for section victory vs. Franklin Regional

Friday, January 7, 2022 | 10:52 PM

Landon Butler said he practiced free throws a few hours before game time Friday night.

“I made like 25 of 35,” the Latrobe junior guard said.

He said he and his teammates sometimes attempt 50 free throws a day in practice.

It’s a good thing.

The Wildcats needed accuracy from the foul line — and some composure — to get past visiting Franklin Regional, 55-48, in a nip-and-tuck Section 3-5A game.

The Wildcats sank 24 of 34 free throws, including 10 of 14 in the fourth quarter, to finally shake off the Panthers.

“It all starts with practice,” said Butler, who scored a game-high 25 points and made 10 of 14 free throws. “We work on drills every day, then shoot foul shots after that. It worked well for us tonight.”

Last year’s game against the Panthers saw a buzzer-beating 3 by Ryan Sickenberger to cap a thrilling 56-53 win for the Wildcats.

This win was more of a grind for Latrobe (3-6, 1-2), which has won three straight and will take a win any way it can get it.

Senior guard Chase Sickenberger added 14 points for Latrobe this time. The Wildcats had just two field goals in the fourth but made some defensive stops to complement the free throws.

“We miss those, and this game flips on a dime,” Latrobe coach Brad Wetzel said of the free throws. “I thought there was a lot of extra effort and hustle plays. We made a lot of plays tonight we weren’t making three weeks ago.”

Franklin Regional (2-8, 1-3) was coming off a 59-55 upset of No. 2 Penn Hills. The Panthers went back and forth with Latrobe but could not overtake the Wildcats in the final quarter.

Butler made Latrobe’s only 3-pointer, from about 25 feet away, early in the fourth to put the Wildcats in front 45-42.

A bunch of free throws followed, including two from Butler, as Latrobe extended its advantage to 51-42.

Franklin Regional senior guard Caden Smith picked up two charging fouls soon after and fouled out with 2 minutes, 15 seconds to play. He had a team-high 21 points.

The Panthers were whistled for three charges inside the final four minutes, including two on Smith.

“This game was about us not being able to dictate what we wanted to do,” Panthers coach Jesse Reed said. “We wanted to get out in transition. We were hoping the momentum (from the Penn Hills win) would carry over. Latrobe took us out of what we wanted to do.”

Smith scored inside to trim the margin to 52-46, but the next time down the floor, Butler blocked Smith’s shot to rouse the crowd.

Latrobe played three freshmen, including Wetzel’s son, John, and yet another limb of the Butler family tree in freshman guard Max.

“Early on in the season, the trust was not there,” Wetzel said. “We weren’t in sync at all. Now we’re starting to see it. And when we see it, we reward it.”

Latrobe led 18-14 after the first quarter and 27-24 at the half.

Franklin Regional went ahead briefly in the third, taking a 36-33 lead on a tip-in by Smith.

The lead changed sides four times in the third to go with four ties. It was 40-40 going to the fourth.

After sophomore Cam Rowell scored early in the fourth to tie it 42-42, Butler made his 3 and the Wildcats patiently went from there.

Rowell finished with 12 points. The rest of the Panthers, excluding Smith, tallied 15.

“This wasn’t our Super Bowl, but it’s a heck of a shot in the arm for us,” Wetzel said. “There was a lot of criticism surrounding this team. People saying we wouldn’t win a game. This was a total team effort. Gritty.”

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

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