Top 10 Westmoreland County sports moments of 2019

Monday, December 30, 2019 | 6:12 PM

As the sun sets on another year in local sports, it’s time to look back on the best stories of 2019 in Westmoreland County.

There were championships, comebacks, program rebirths and coveted recruits. The final year in the second decade of the 2000s featured repeat winners and playoff newcomers and success that reached beyond the high school level.

They say hindsight is 2020, but here are the top 10 local sports stories of 2019.

10. Golfer Palmer Jackson has year to remember.

Now a breakthrough freshman at Notre Dame, Jackson had a tremendous summer before blending in seamlessly to college golf.

Jackson won the AJGA Memorial at Ohio State, qualified for the U.S. Junior, won the CR Miller Match Play tournament for a third time and reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur.

And what a debut season he had at Notre Dame. Jackson led the Fighting Irish in scoring average during the fall season at 70.07. He won the Quail Hollow Collegiate with a 16-under-par total of 200 and carded a second-round 66.

9. Mt. Pleasant’s Dom Giallonardo beats cancer for a second time and returns to baseball.

The senior defeated Ewing’s sarcoma for a second time to rejoin the Vikings, despite one of his legs being shorter than the other. His resolve inspired family members, teammates, friends, coaches and teachers.

8. Chris Eddins wins second straight NCAA D2 wrestling title.

The Pitt-Johnstown standout out of Greensburg Salem won his second straight NCAA Division II title as a junior at 149 pounds. He finished the season 23-0 and is ranked No. 1 in his weight class this year as the senior aims for a three-peat.

7. Penn-Trafford, state softball champs.

After a loss in the WPIAL semifinals, heavy-hitting Penn-Trafford softball regrouped to win its first PIAA title — the first state title for the school in any sport. The Warriors defeated Lampeter-Strasburg, 5-3, to become the fifth team from Westmoreland County to win a PIAA softball title, joining Hempfield, Mt. Pleasant, Yough and Valley.

6. Greensburg Central Catholic girls golf wins fifth straight WPIAL title.

The Centurions cruised to another championship at Cedarbrook Golf Course, winning by 51 strokes. Sophomore twin sisters Ella and Meghan Zambruno carded rounds of 77 and 78 to lead the way.

GCC went on to win its second consecutive PIAA title at Heritage Hills Resort in York. It shot 248 to slip past District 10 champion Hickory by four shots. Meghan Zambruno shot 77 to lead GCC.

5. Ligonier Valley joins the WPIAL.

After five decades competing in District 6, the district decided it needed a change of scenery — and enhanced competition — and made the move to join the WPIAL in all sports in 2020-21 school year. Ligonier Valley was a WPIAL member from 1927-69.

4. Southmoreland football finally makes it back to WPIAL playoffs.

After 40 years, the Scotties found their way back to relevance. While a hot start was overshadowed some by a rough finish — Southmoreland won five in a row and lost six straight —the team enjoyed a return to the WPIAL postseason for the first time since 1979. A groundswell of community support followed the Scotties all season.

3. Franklin Regional boys soccer wins back-to-back WPIAL titles — led by sophomore phenom Anthony DiFalco.

Defensive dominance again set the tone for a nationally ranked Panthers team. DiFalco and a talented cast topped rival West Allegheny in the WPIAL final before reaching the PIAA semifinals. The Panthers posted 17 shutouts in 23 games and finished 21-1-1.

DiFalco was named the WPIAL Class 3A Player of the Year, and Rand Hudson was selected as the coach of the year in the classification. DiFalco also received All-American recognition.

2. Iowa’s Spencer Lee wins a national wrestling title in Pittsburgh.

Competing in his backyard, Lee captured back-to-back NCAA Division I titles with a victory in the finals of the 125-pound bracket before 18,950 at PPG Paints Arena. The Franklin Regional graduate, now a junior, recently qualified for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials April 4-5 at Penn State.

1. Hempfield softball wins fifth straight WPIAL title.

A confident Spartans team made it a five-peat with a convincing, 15-0 win over North Allegheny in the WPIAL final. North Allegheny had defeated them twice during the regular season but was no match in the third meeting as Hempfield won in a mercy-ruled final shortened to four innings.

The Spartans tied Sto-Rox for the most WPIAL softball titles won in a row.

Honorable mention

• What a year it was for Division I linemen. College recruiters at the FBS and FCS levels came from all over to check out local linemen. When it was all said and done, seven linemen from the county landed with Division I programs: Fintan Brose (Delaware) and Cole Graham (St. Francis, Pa.) of Hempfield; Ligonier Valley’s Michael Petrof (Navy), Christian Jablonski (Lehigh) and Wylie Spiker (St. Francis, Pa.); Belle Vernon’s Hayden Baron (Robert Morris); and Yough graduate Scott Houseman (Albany), who played at Lackawanna junior college.

• Running backs Nathan Roby (Hempfield), Kyrie Miller (Ligonier Valley) and Justin Huss (Derry) ran wild in a late-season rushing surge.

• Mt. Pleasant’s Dayton Pitzer and Carter Dibert of Franklin Regional won PIAA wrestling titles.

• Greensburg Central Catholic won its first WPIAL championship soccer since 2009, led by standout senior Nate Ward. An Indiana recruit, Ward played in the High School All-American Game in Florida and scored a goal for the East team.

• The Yough girls reached WPIAL soccer finals for the first time behind record-breaking goal-scorer Justine Appolonia.

• Jeannette finally obtained artificial turf at McKee Stadium.

• Veteran girls basketball coach Gene Brisbane returned to coaching at age 67, taking over at Derry.

• City League champion Buddy Valinsky left Allderdice to coach Norwin boys basketball.

• The Belle Vernon football team returned to the WPIAL finals for the first time since 2009.

• Penn-Trafford field hockey won its fourth straight WPIAL title.

• Monessen two-sport star Devin Whitlock transferred to Belle Vernon.

• The Pitt-Greensburg women’s soccer made a historic run, winning the AMCC title and advancing to the NCAA Division III Tournament.

• Former Norwin basketball star Alayna Gribble, the Knight’s all-time leading scorer, gave up basketball at Pitt due to concussions.

• Locals Robert Kennedy, Kareem Hall and Scott Houseman helped lead the Lackawanna football team to the JUCO national title game.

• Latrobe graduate Hannah Green, an elite-level runner, took second in the 800-meter run at the U.S. Track and Field Championships and qualified for the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar.

• Former Hempfield star basketball player Kason Harrell turned professional and joined a team in Dublin, Ireland.

• Freshman Chelsea Bisi (Derry) tore it up offensively for Penn State softball. She made the All-Big Ten Freshman Team after leading the Nittany Lions with 37 RBIs. She hit 13 home runs.

• Jeannette grad Lamont “Showboat” Robinson was nominated for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame for a third time for his role in comedy basketball.

• Penn-Trafford football played a game at national power Massillon, Ohio.

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

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