Moon rallies past Franklin Regional to secure 5th WPIAL boys basketball title

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Friday, March 1, 2024 | 10:34 PM


One team got hot in the fourth quarter, and the other was not.

Moon’s Michael Santicola broke a fourth-quarter tie with consecutive 3-pointers about a minute apart as the top-seeded Tigers rallied late to defeat No. 2 Franklin Regional, 53-48, in the WPIAL Class 5A boys basketball final Friday night at Petersen Events Center.

The lead change came during a four-and-a-half minute stretch when Franklin Regional was held scoreless.

The WPIAL title was Moon’s fifth.

Santicola led the Tigers with a team-high 14 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks — but his biggest shots came midway through the fourth quarter, b. His first 3-pointer gave Moon a 47-44 lead with 4:55 left, and his second pushed the lead to 50-44 about a minute later.

The shots gave Moon its first lead since the first quarter.

“It felt amazing,” Santicola said. “As soon as I see the first one go in, I have full confidence to shoot another one.”

Franklin Regional’s shooters, who went 2 for 13 in the fourth quarter, couldn’t answer. Their cold finish included an 0-for-5 stretch from 3-point range in the fourth.

“They made some big plays at the end; we had a couple of shots that didn’t fall,” Franklin Regional coach Jesse Reed said. “But I thought we executed our game plan exactly how we wanted. We held a really good team to 51 points. If you’d had told me that before the game, I would have been extremely pleased.”

Cooper Rankin led Franklin Regional (23-3) with 16 points, and Cameron Rowell had 15. The Panthers were seeking their first WPIAL title and entered the fourth quarter in position to win one. They’d led 15-12 after one quarter, 26-20 at half and 42-37 after three quarters.

But Moon won the fourth quarter, 16-6.

The Tigers shot 63% from the field in the second half, including a 6-for-12 performance from beyond the 3-point arc.

Aiden Reesman had 13 points for Moon (23-3), and Youngstown State recruit Elijah Guillory had 11 points. Guillory scored 39 in the semifinals but faced steady double teams from Franklin Regional.

“It’s not an individual championship, it’s a team effort,” Moon coach Gino Palmosina said. “We’ve got a good group of guys who believe in each other and trust each other. When we needed to make shots, we did.”

Shooting in a large, open arena presents a much different challenge than taking shots in a school gym, Palmosina said. His players went 0 for 7 from 3-point range in the first half but honed in later.

“I don’t think people put a lot of emphasis on how different it is,” he said. “Not that it’s even more difficult, it’s just different to shoot in a gym like this compared to a high school gym where there’s a wall right behind the hoop.”

The WPIAL title was the first at Moon for Palmosina, who won two previously at Bishop Canevin. This was Palmosina’s second season with the Tigers.

Both teams advance to play in the PIAA playoffs next Friday. Moon will play a subregional runner-up from District 8, 9 or 10, while Franklin Regional will face the District 3 sixth-place finisher.

Franklin Regional started slow and missed six of its first seven shots, yet it led 15-12 after the first quarter.

Moon had scored the game’s first six points on three consecutive baskets by Reesman, but Franklin Regional answered with an 8-o run and four straight baskets by Rankin. Reesman and Rankin were the only two players to score in the first six minutes.

After ties at 6-6, 8-8 and 10-10, Franklin Regional built a five-point lead with a 3-pointer by Colin Masten and two free throws from Rowell. It was a slim lead, but one the Panthers held into the fourth quarter.

Ten turnovers by Moon, including seven in the second quarter, helped Franklin Regional keep the lead in the first half. The teams combined for only 19 points in the second quarter, with Franklin Regional outscoring Moon, 11-8.

Franklin Regional’s largest first-half lead was six points on a jumper by Rowell with two minutes left in the half. The Panthers shot only 28% from the field in the second quarter (4 for 14) but compensated by taking eight more first-half shots than Moon.

Franklin Regional entered halftime with a 26-20 lead. The second half started with two more baskets by Rowell, including a layup that stretched the lead to 10 points for the first time.

But Moon had cut the lead back in three points late in the third with a 3-pointer by Donovan Turner and a layup by Reesman to trail 35-32.

Guillory scored seven of his 11 points in the third quarter after a halftime adjustment to the way Franklin Regional was defending him.

“I was letting the double-team come to me (early in the game) and making it easier on them and harder for me to get the ball up,” Guillory said. “But when I started attacking their hips, it was easier to find my guys and get out of the double teams.”

Franklin Regional entered the fourth with a five-point lead, but their shooting woes returned. Moon forced ties at 42 and 44 before Santicola made a go-ahead 3-pointer for a 47-44 lead with 4:55 left. He made another 3 about a minute later to push the Tigers’ lead to six.

Franklin Regional went scoreless for more than four minutes in that stretch. A layup by Rankin broke the scoring slump with 1:24 left, but that was the last basket scored by either team. Moon made three free throws in the final 68 seconds and Franklin Regional made two.

“Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way,” Reed said. “Shots don’t go in when they normally do. That’s how it goes.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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