Pine-Richland knocks off Peters Township to reach Penguins Cup finals showdown with North Allegheny

Monday, March 11, 2024 | 11:36 PM

After beating the top-seeded Pine-Richland Rams twice in the regular season, No. 4 seed Peters Township was feeling great after scoring two goals in 19 seconds in the first three minutes of Monday’s Penguins Cup Class 3A semifinal between the teams.

However, unlike the first two meetings, Pine-Richland was able to respond, stay in it and then score three third-period goals to return to the championship game with a 4-2 victory. The Rams will meet North Allegheny, which beat Seneca Valley, 3-2, in the nightcap at the RMU Island Sports Center.

“Digging a two-goal deficit isn’t what we signed up for, but it’s a testament to the character of the group to stick with it,” said Pine-Richland coach Jordan Yoklic. “They understood there was a lot of hockey to be played there … just going out there and competing the very next shift. Our compete level was at a consistent high level all game and some guys stepped up.”

The first period had a bit of a feeling-out period for two teams that hadn’t met since December.

Peters had wins over the Rams by a 3-2 score in the season opener and 6-2 in December.

The two-time defending champs scored the first two goals of the game at 2:31 and 2:50 of the second period. First, it was Brady Holleran from the high slot with a wrist shot that beat Pine-Richland tender Brett Sudac, then it was Charlie Caputo with a redirect of a Zach Palmieri just 19 seconds later.

But after that, Sudac pitched a shutout as his team battled back, which included a few huge saves once it was 2-2 in the third.

“He made a lot of big saves. He’s got a lot of fight in him,” said Yoklic. “He’s a competitor and does everything right on and away from the rink. It was great to see him really earn that one.”

In all, Sudac made 28 saves on the 30 shots on goal he faced.

While Sudac was hard at work stopping any Indians chances, the Rams went to work.

They got a couple of opportunities on the next few shifts after the goals by Peters Township before breaking through with a tic-tac-toe play on the only power play the top unit in Class 3A had on the evening.

Using the right half-wall and corner for a portion of the chance, Cullen Campbell worked the puck to the end line where Zachary Howard sat, scanned and waited for Benjamin Baileys to emerge from nowhere at the backdoor. Howard fired a tape-to-tape pass to Baileys, who buried the first for Pine-Richland, beating Kyle Thomas at 7:53 of the second period.

That was all the scoring in the second before the ice cut, but it was a big one for the Rams.

“It was a good play by the collective five taking what they were given,” said Yoklic. “It was a great tic-tac-toe play at the backdoor.”

The Rams went into the third down a goal but tied things up at 5:45 with an odd-angle goal that trickled in off Thomas’s shoulder to even the game up.

Things went back and forth after that until Josh Lanyard buried what turned out to be the game-winner at 14:03 of the third after a great keep at the blue line. Lanyard beat Thomas from the slot to give the Rams their first lead of the night … and for good.

“We were one shot away from tying it and one shot from taking the lead. It was belief in the locker room. The guys were calm, cool and collected and eager to get back out there,” said Yoklic. “AJ’s goal was obviously huge and Lanyard’s was bigger. The job at that point was still not done, but we got a big empty net goal.”

The empty netter was scored by Howard with 1:15 to go, and Peters didn’t get a great chance after that.

The Rams will play North Allegheny on Tuesday in the title game. Pine-Richland owns 5-4 and 4-3 wins over the Tigers this season.

Pine-Richland will be in search of its first Penguins Cup since 2019, and the Tigers will try for their first since 2021. March 19’s championship is set for 6:15 p.m. at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry.

“We’re excited for the opportunity. We know it’s going to be a challenge,” said Yoklic.

North Allegheny 4, Seneca Valley 2

In the night’s other semifinal, it was No. 2 North Allegheny besting No. 3 Seneca Valley, as the Tigers saw their three first-period goals hold up in a 3-2 finish.

North Allegheny got first-period tallies at 3:15 from Ed Scherer, 11:59 from Luke Walkauskas and 16:12 from Gianni Lochiatto. Walkauskas had an assist on the first Tiger goal.

Jacob Gilbert scored for the Raiders at 7:37 of the second on a pass from Ian Uram before the Raiders made it 3-2 2:49 into the third on a fortuitous bounce from behind the net that was guided in by Marshall Hewitt with Ethan Lindberg getting an assist.

Mark Joyson scored an empty netter with 24 seconds left to lock it up and send the Tigers to the title game.

Camden Junker stopped 29 shots for North Allegheny and Cenzo Ditulli turned back 16 of the 19 he faced in the loss.

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