Trib HSSN PIHL Player of the Week: Week ending Feb. 16, 2020

Sunday, February 16, 2020 | 9:51 PM

High-scoring nights are nothing new to Burrell senior Gio Palombo.

He has missed games this season because of injury, but he has been very good in a multitude of roles in the games he has played. The Bucs have needed Palombo to play defense — something he has done with no complaint — and still made an impact from there.

This past week, Burrell had a big matchup with Wilmington, the team the Bucs are battling for third place in Class B’s North Division.

Coach Fred Neal needed Palombo to play defense. He did and did what he always does: make an impact early and often.

“Gio had a strong night the whole way through,” Neal said. “We’ve asked him to play defense a good bit this year, and we always want to get him with Tyler (Stewart), but that shakes a bunch of other things up in our lineup.”

Just 2 minutes, 7 seconds into the game, Palombo scored the first goal of the game. About six minutes later, he had a secondary assist on a goal by Logan Schoepf that made it 2-0 Bucs.

“Gio is an excitable kid. He loves to contribute, and he feeds off it when he does,” Neal said.

After Wilmington cut the deficit to one, Palombo scored again. But Wilmington scored three goals in the second period to take a 4-3 lead to intermission.

That’s when Neal opted to put Palombo with Stewart on offense, just to see what would happen in the third.

They took the first shift and scored 42 seconds into the period, tying the score. Palombo scored from Stewart and Nathan Schultz.

From there, it was an easy call to leave Palombo with Stewart on offense.

“We just wanted to see what would happen when we put them out there together,” Neal said. “So we made some adjustments after they got that goal, and they were on fire the rest of the night. I’d love to have him there all the time. We just have a lot of holes on defense, and he’s able to fill some of those on defense.

“Our guys got a ton of energy from that first shift, and those guys didn’t let up. It was fun to watch.”

After a goal by Luke Rose, Stewart scored the next four goals, each of which were assisted by Palombo, who finished the night with three goals and five assists. It is Palombo’s third game this season that he had at least six points. The eight points are the most he has scored in a game this season.

The win, coupled with other results around the division, clinched a playoff spot for Palombo’s squad. With two games left on their schedule, the Bucs are tied for third with Wilmington, which still has three games left.

“Considering how we started, it feels good to be where we are at,” Neal said. “We always felt like we’d end up in the playoffs, but it certainly hasn’t been easy for us. It’ll be tough sledding, but we’ll have an opportunity to go and do our best.”

Neal is looking for Palombo to help lead the way to third place but knows it is going to be a challenge either way for the Bucs. They will be without Tyler Stewart in the postseason because he will not have the games played to meet the eligibility requirements after rejoining the team in January.

“He has embraced any role we have given him all year. He knows what this team is this year,” Neal said. “It makes a big difference when he is out there. He brings a level of production that, sometimes, you can put three guys together and not get that.”

This week’s TribLIVE High School Sports Network PIHL Player of the Week and his teammates will hit the ice again Monday at 9 p.m. against Central Valley. Their final game of the regular season will be a week from that game, Feb. 24 against McDowell.

Honorable mentions:

Mario Eafrati (Canon-McMillan): Last week’s player of the week was sharp in net again in a Big Macs win last Monday. Eafrati made 34 saves and allowed just one goal in the win over Seneca Valley.

Jake Kruszewski (Cathedral Prep): Kruszewski scored four goals and had one assist in an 8-4 win over Upper St. Clair on Tuesday in Triple-A.

Alex Wilbert (Peters Township): It was a solid week in net for Wilber, who posted a 17-save shutout in a 3-0 win over Central Catholic on Tuesday before stopping 31 of 34 shots in a 4-3 shootout win against Pine-Richland on Thursday.

Brandon Timmins (South Fayette): There are shutouts, and then there are 42-save shutouts. That’s what Timmins did in a 2-0 win over Hempfield on Monday night.

Greg Irons (Latrobe), Sean Dugan (Carrick): These are the other netminders who posted blank sheets last week. Irons made 16 saves in Latrobe’s 11-0 win over Quaker Valley, and Dugan’s 19 saves helped Carrick to a 3-0 win against Morgantown.

Jordan McCurdy (Meadville): The Bulldogs goalie made 51 saves and allowed two goals in a win over Mars on Monday.

Nick McMasters, Dan Baranowski (Plum): A six-point night for McMasters in a win over Shaler on Monday included four goals and two helpers. Baranowski scored once and helped on four other goals in the same game.

Adis Ultanbekov (Bishop McCort): The first player of the week of the season had four goals and an assist in a 6-3 win over South Park on Monday.

Hunter Fairman, Eddie Pazo and Riley Holzer (Thomas Jefferson): Three guys with five points or more in a night is usually a recipe for success. Fairman scored three goals and assisted on two others. Pazo had three helpers and three goals. Holzer had one goal and four assists.

Tyler Stewart (Burrell): Palombo’s teammate had quite the night, too, as one of his four goals was the winner. He also had three assists in the 9-5 win over Wilmington.

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