Trib HSSN athletes of the week: Pine-Richland’s Dan Petcash, Mars’ Tai Johnson
By: Don Rebel
Wednesday, March 21, 2018 | 9:48 PM
Claim to fame: Andrew Petcash helped lead Pine-Richland to back-to-back WPIAL titles and a PIAA runner-up finish in the last two years. However the Petcash name lives on as Dan took over Andrew's spot in the starting lineup, and the Rams success has continued. Petcash scored 14 points in Pine-Richland's 83-63 rout of State College last week in the second round. In the quarterfinals, Petcash hit on 9 of 12 shots from the field, including five 3-pointers for 27 points in the a thrilling 52-50 victory over Allderdice. Pine-Richland advanced to the state semifinals for the second straight season.
What was going through your mind with time winding down in the quarterfinals against Allderdice. Then, what were you thinking as Greg Shulkosky's shot banked in with 2 seconds left?
We battled a lot of adversity this season with players being out and by losing a couple games at the buzzer. We knew that as a team we would come together in the playoffs. Against Allderdice, we got down in the final minutes, but we knew that the game could still be won. Greg was not shooting very well this game, but I knew that he still had the confidence in himself to put up that shot and make it.
Was it tough preparing for the state playoffs after losing to Penn Hills in the WPIAL finals as compared to last year when the Rams were coming off a district title game win over Butler?
Yeah it was definitely tough preparing for Central Catholic after we had just come off of a loss to Penn Hills. I feel like we had some more motivation this year to make a run in the state playoffs because of this loss, but it is always a tough transition from WPIALs to states because you don't feel like you are in a tournament yet until you get that first game.
You brother Andrew was such a big part of the back-to-back WPIAL titles and the PIAA runner-up the last couple of years. Did you feel any pressure replacing him this season in the starting lineup?
I did feel some pressure because he had such an awesome career. It motivated me though to go out and do the same things that he did on the court.
How competitive are the one-on-one games between you and Andrew, and who usually wins?
The one-on-one games we have can get really intense in our driveway. Andrew can steal a couple games off of me, but I usually win.
What is your strength on the court and what is the one thing you know you have to improve on?
I'd say my biggest strength is my shooting ability whether it's midrange or 3s. Something that I need to improve on is my overall strength.
What three celebrities would you like to have lunch and a lengthy conversation with?
Kevin Hart, Shaquille O'Neal and Alex Morgan.
Who were your NCAA Final Four teams before the crazy tournament began and who do you go with now for your Final Four?
I had Michigan, Villanova, Michigan State and Virginia winning it all. I would have to go with Kentucky, Michigan, Syracuse and Villanova in my new Final Four.
Claim to fame: Mars basketball has been out of this world this season. The Fightin' Planets boys' team won its first WPIAL title and is headed back to Hershey to play in the PIAA finals for a second straight year. But the girls' team, led by junior Tai Johnson, also deserves some attention. While they lost in the district semifinals for the second time in three years, they have won three straight in the state tournament as they prepare for Saturday's semifinal game against Archbishop Carroll. Johnson scored 35 points in Mars' 61-53 victory over Thomas Jefferson in the second round and then led all scorers with 22 points as the Fightin' Planets eliminated WPIAL champ Gateway, 50-38, for the program's first trip to the state Final Four in more than 40 years.
You had back-to-back big games last week in PIAA second round and quarterfinal victories. Are you and the team playing some of their best ball now in the PIAA playoffs?
As a team, I think we are playing well. We know what we are capable of, and each game we go out and compete offensively and defensively.
Mars has made it to the WPIAL semifinals twice and the quarterfinals once in the last three years. How frustrating has it been to come up just short of playing in the district championship game?
It was very frustrating, being that close. We all worked so hard and had such a great opportunity in front of us. We just did not play up to our potential that night. So, we had to move on and focus on PIAA.
What was Coach Petruska's message to the team when you first started preparing for the PIAA playoffs? Was it tough to bounce back or did coming up short in the WPIAL playoffs make the team hungrier for the state postseason?
She was pretty succinct with her message. Basically she told us that we have to be focused from the start every single game and that both teams want the same thing — to win. We used our loss as motivation for state.
With the great success of both the boys and girls basketball teams the last couple of years at Mars, how pumped is the school about hoops, and do the two teams support each other?
There is definitely some excitement at school. It's cool when the teachers ask about games and know what is going on. To be honest, it is more likely that we go to the boys' games than them coming to ours.
What went into your decision to commit to Bucknell?
Bucknell is a great academic school. They have an amazing women's basketball program and have been very successful in the Patriot League. I have a nice relationship with the coaching staff, and the campus is beautiful.
If you were principal for a day at Mars High School, what are the first three things you would do?
I wouldn't add on snow days to the end of the school year, I would change the late bell to a later time, and I would make homeroom longer.
What are some of your “can't miss” television programs?
“Law and Order SVU.” I watch more Netflix than TV. I like “Stranger Things,” “Gossip Girl” and “American Horror Story.”
Don Rebel is a TribLive High School Sports Network broadcaster and staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com.