Peters Township jumps on Upper St. Clair, claims Class 3A Penguins Cup

Monday, March 20, 2023 | 9:09 PM

One side felt elated, the other was shell shocked in Cranberry just seconds into the Class 3A PIHL championship game, as the Penguins Cup title game started with a turnover and a bang for the defending champion Peters Township Indians.

Upper St. Clair, the seventh seed in 3A, won the opening faceoff, but a misplay and turnover at the blue line led to a goal nine seconds into the contest for the Indians, who used the Austin Malley marker to shock the Panthers then run away with their second straight Penguins Cup title, 8-1, at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.

“It was absolutely electric,” Malley said. “Just to start out that way was unbelievable. It showed what we were there to do. We wanted to start out hot and keep the momentum going because once we get the momentum we’re unstoppable.”

Malley was right.

Peters Township tallied four goals in the first period and lit the lamp three more times before Upper St. Clair finally got on the board before the ice cut.

At 4:43 of the first, Troy Jones tapped in a rebound off a shot by captain Ryder Mertens to make it 2-0 before Cole Neupaver scored from Will Tomko and Ben Kovac to make it 3-0 just about a minute and a half later.

Finally, with 2:22 to play in the first, Kovac scored the first of his three goals after Malley carried the puck into the zone and fed Kovac across the crease of Louis Liberatore, who entered the championship game with a .900 save percentage in the playoffs.

“We were hoping for a couple in the first few shifts,” said Peters coach Rick Tingle. “That’s what we want. I wish we could do it all the time. This happens to be a team that can do it and has been doing it. The real key was shutting them down. … They were what we feared. They have that first line of great scorers.”

Peters Township used what Tingle described as a “blood-in-the-water mentality” to score three more times in the second. Kovac scored at 6:05 before Tomko made it 6-0 and Kovac’s hat-trick goal made it 7-0 at 12:12 of the second.

“It meant a lot (to get three). Our line was buzzing all game and it’s good. We’re going to the state championship now,” Kovac said. “We just set the tone early and kept shooting and scoring.”

Colin Ruffner scored shorthanded at 13:21 of the period for what turned out to be Upper St. Clair’s only goal of the game.

It was the 13th shorthanded goal of the year for the Panthers and was assisted by Zach Hardy and Greg Timmons.

Peters Township added Troy Jones’ second in the third period at 2:27 before coasting to a running-clock win.

“The outcome happened to look like it was all offense, but it was mostly defense,” Tingle said. “The only goal they got … the kid’s more dangerous short-handed. We were worried about that the whole time, and he still knocked one out of the air, went down the ice and scored.”

The title is the eighth for the Indians and the second in a row. It marks the first time a 3A team has gone back to back since Bethel Park won three in a row from 2000-2002.

“We know. We have an assistant that was the head coach of that team now. We were the underdog (going into the year) because of that simple reason,” Tingle said. “This is nice, but Saturday is what we’re playing for. We’ll reset and go to work on Saturday.”

Upper St. Clair’s season comes to an end after a playoff run that saw the team get to the big stage as a seventh seed, knocking off No. 2 Central Catholic and No. 6 Pine-Richland with six-goal outputs.

For second-year head coach Dave Stock, the flat start was a problem.

“That was an element of it, but a lot of credit goes to (Peters Township) down there. They’ve been here before and they played like it,” Stock said. “I was proud of our guys for fighting the whole way to the end.”

The Indians will play in the 3A state championship game at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Robert Morris University Island Sports Complex on Neville Island.

“We usually look for something that’s a crack in the armor. That worked last year,” Tingle said. “We just have to go and see if there are any cracks.”

The Indians get the winner of Tuesday’s Flyers Cup 3A title game between Holy Ghost and LaSalle.

“It’s going to be awesome,” Malley said. “Our fans showed out last year. We’re really excited. The experience will help us, and we’ll watch film later on in the week. We’ll celebrate this for a little bit then get back to work.”

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