Penn-Trafford boys reach .500 with win vs. Franklin Regional

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Wednesday, December 29, 2021 | 8:58 PM


A heavy dose of Noah Wright early was enough to offset a big helping of Caden Smith late as the Penn-Trafford boys basketball team avenged an earlier loss to Franklin Regional.

Wright, a fiery senior guard, scored 13 of his career-high 24 points in the first quarter for Penn-Trafford, which held back Smith and the Panthers for a 62-54 victory Wednesday night and finished 2-0 in the Penn-Trafford Holiday Tournament.

Senior guard Nick Crum added 19 points for the Warriors (4-4), who lost to Franklin Regional, 53-47, in overtime when they played two weeks ago.

“We feed off each other,” Wright said of the chemistry between him and his teammates. “The first time, we struggled some against their zone. We practiced zone to prepare better for (Franklin Regional) this time. It’s fun to play against them. They bring out the best in us, and we bring out the best in them.”

The 6-foot-4 Smith, meanwhile, erupted for 14 of his team-best 20 points in the fourth when the Panthers (1-7), who fell behind 39-17 in the second half, put up 27 points. They had scored that many through three quarters.

The bookend excitement started with Wright, who made three 3-pointers in the opening quarter. Crum hit one of his three 3s to stake Penn-Trafford to a 19-4 lead.

The cold-shooting Panthers, who have dropped five straight, did not have a field goal in the second quarter as they fell behind 31-13 by the half.

“They blitzed us,” Panthers coach Jesse Reed said. “We played great in the second half, but we dug ourselves into a hole that was too deep to dig out of. This has been a common thing for us. When you’re down 15 or 20 at halftime, it’s hard to come back.”

Junior Giovani Merola made a 3, Wright drove in and made a layup off the glass and Crum scored off a cut as the Warriors extended their advantage to 39-17 midway through the third.

Sophomore Fin Hutchison made two 3s in the quarter, but Merola connected from deep again for a 15-point lead heading to the fourth.

After Crum scored again on a fast break, though, things started to get interesting.

The Panthers went on a 9-0 run with a three-point play by sophomore Cam Rowell and another 3 from Hutchison.

“We got a little stagnant on offense, and our mindset changed,” Wright said.

Smith, who single-handedly made a runaway interesting, went to work in a back-and-forth final quarter as the Panthers began to tailgate the Warriors.

The senior scored 14 of the Panthers’ final 17 points inside the final four-plus minutes. That included two 3s, the second of which trimmed it to 59-53 with 14.9 seconds remaining.

“We had a great start,” Penn-Trafford coach Doug Kelly said. “We moved the ball well, slid more and got good shots. When they started to come back, we hit the panic button a little. We threw the ball places we never do. It was uncertainty instead of confidence.

“We had to ask ourselves, ‘Do we want to give up 2s or 3s?’ ”

Reed said Smith is one of his senior leaders and wants the rest of the team to feed off his energy like Penn-Trafford does with Wright’s.

“Caden played his butt off,” Reed said.

Smith had two points in the first half and 18 in the second.

Said Kelly, who used to coach Franklin Regional: “I have known Caden for a while. He has a huge heart, and he’s a fierce competitor.”

Penn-Trafford used free throws to stay in front, making 9 of 12 in the fourth, including 7 of 9 from Wright. The team did not make a field goal inside the final two minutes.

“We circled up and found a way down the stretch,” Kelly said. “We’re trying to find the right (rotation) and putting guys in the right spots. Setting the tone like that was great, but we need that type of effort for the whole game.”

Penn-Trafford, which pushed past McKeesport, 70-67, in the tournament opener Tuesday, joined Upper St. Clair with two players on the all-tournament team in Wright and Crum. Tanner O’Grady and Marco Carone of Upper St. Clair and Travarese Rowe of McKeesport also were selected along with Franklin Regional’s Smith.

The Warriors have won three of their last four as they get set to open Section 3-6A play Tuesday at Central Catholic.

Franklin Regional (0-2 in section) hosts Penn Hills on Tuesday in Section 3-5A.

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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