Westmoreland 2018 sports year in review: Championships aplenty around region
By: Bill Beckner Jr.
Sunday, December 30, 2018 | 5:36 PM
History was made, and championships were celebrated as another local sports year made its mark.
Here are the top five Westmoreland County sports stories from 2018:
5. Golden Lions take state
The Greensburg Salem boys cross country team captured the PIAA Class AA title for its first state championship. The Golden Lions scaled the Parkview course in Hershey to a rousing finish as seniors Cam Binda, Mark Brown and Dylan Binda set the pace for the school’s first boys state title.
A parade through Greensburg recognized the team’s accomplishment.
4. Hempfield does it again
With a series of clutch, late-inning victories, Hempfield softball became the first WPIAL team to win three consecutive PIAA championships. The achievement came on the heels of a WPIAL four-peat. Freshman Emma Hoffner’s walk-off, run-scoring double gave Hempfield a 4-3 victory over Parkland in the state final at Penn State.
The Spartans, guided by longtime coach Bob Kalp, rallied for four one-run wins in the playoffs, including a 2-1 win in 10 innings against rival Latrobe in the WPIAL Class 6A final.
All that after Hempfield had a 47-game winning streak stopped by Penn-Trafford early in the season.
3. Full Nelson
Saint Vincent senior Maggie Nelson made people pay attention to lacrosse. She had a season to remember as she took her place among the all-time great athletes in school history. Nelson broke a half-dozen NCAA records and earned a spot in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd.”
Nelson had a Division III single-game record with 19 points (11 goals, eight assists) in a win over Chatham. It was the second-most points scored by a player in NCAA history. In the same game, Nelson topped 300 goals and 400 points for her career.
Nelson, the ECAC Offensive Player of the Year and a two-time Ohio River Lacrosse Conference Offensive Player of the Year, finished as the all-time Division III leader in goals with 364 and second in points (489). Her single-season records include goals (141) and points (178).
2. Derry products
Derry’s football team marched to the WPIAL championship game at Heinz Field, its first finals appearance in school history as Derry.
The thrilling run could be remembered more for the semifinal comeback — and game-clinching touchdown — that vaulted the Trojans into the title game.
Derry rallied from a three-touchdown deficit late in the third quarter to edge North Catholic, 36-29.
Tribune-Review Westmoreland Player of the Year Justin Flack returned a highlight-reel interception 30 yards for the go-ahead score with 1 minute, 20 seconds to play. It will be a play the Derry faithful will talk about for years to come.
1. Spencer’s gift
Franklin Regional product Spencer Lee was expected to make an impact quickly at the collegiate level, but even Lee probably could not have envisioned a rookie wrestling season like the one he had at Iowa.
This lightweight packed a punch with a hello-world of a year.
The freshman 125-pounder, encouraged by some to redshirt early in the season, a suggestion he escaped with relative ease after he got a taste of victory early in the year, dominated opponents on the way to a NCAA title.
Lee, who went 22-2 in his debut season, outscored five opponents by a combined 61-4 en route to the national title. He downed Rutgers sophomore Nick Suriano, 5-1, in the title match at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
Best of the rest
Action Jackson : Palmer Jackson of Franklin Regional capped a brilliant senior golf season by winning the PIAA Class 3A championship.
Jackson, who signed with Notre Dame, was a three-time section champion, a four-time WPIAL finalist who carded three top-three finishes, and a four-time PIAA qualifier. He also finished seventh, ninth and second at the state tournament.
Jackson had an extraordinary summer as he qualified for a number of large-scale events at some of the country’s top courses.
Well-received: Ligonier Valley senior wide receiver Aaron Tutino set the state record for receiving touchdowns with 61. He had 66 receptions for 1,363 yards and 21 touchdowns this season. For his career, the St. Francis (Pa.) recruit tallied 206 catches for 4,120 yards.
Four! : The Greensburg Central Catholic girls won their fourth straight WPIAL golf championship and doubled down by finally breaking through with their first PIAA title.
Great Scotties : Southmoreland clubbed defending state champion South Park, 12-1, in five innings to win its first WPIAL softball title. The Scotties got the bats around early and kept hitting in a runaway win in the Class 3A final at Seton Hill.
Jettisoned : Former Jeannette star Terrelle Pryor went from the Washington Redskins to the New York Jets to the Buffalo Bills, but his stays were short. Pryor, who converted to wide receiver from quarterback, battled injuries in his sixth pro season and finished with a combined 16 receptions for 252 yards and two touchdowns.
B-ball brawl: A massive fight broke out between fans and players during a Monessen at Clairton boys basketball game, leading to the arrest of 12 people and sanctions by the WPIAL.
As many as 100 people reportedly were involved the melee. Both schools were put on a five-year probation period.
Eddins wins it all: Pitt-Johnstown sophomore wrestler Chris Eddins, a Greensburg Salem graduate, knocked off No. 1 seed Darren Wynn of McKendree, 4-2, in the NCAA Division II championship to bring home a national title. Eddins was the No. 7 seed in the 141-pound bracket.
FR strong : Franklin Regional boys basketball, under rookie coach Steve Scorpion, reached the WPIAL finals for the first time since 1997. The Panthers fell to current section foe Mars, 55-44, in the Class 5A title game at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center.
Ram tough : Ligonier Valley made it to the District 6 boys basketball championship for the first time in 31 years. The Rams made the most of the visit, defeating Richland, 58-54, to win the title.
Hempfield forfeits : Hempfield won a WPIAL Class 3A playoff wrestling match against Seneca Valley, 32-31, but had to forfeit the victory a day later after it was discovered the Spartans had used an academically ineligible wrestler at 160 pounds.
Bucs don’t stop here : Burrell wrestling won its 12th straight WPIAL team championship and 15th straight section title.
Mr. Football: Jeannette football standout Robert Kennedy, the Tribune-Review Westmoreland Player of the Year, was named Mr. Pennsylvania Football for the 2017 season.
Nice ring to it : Jeannette had help raising funds for championship rings after the Jayhawks won WPIAL and PIAA football championships. The community’s Elliott Group donated $23,000 to help pay for the rings.
Going dancing: Jeannette product Julian Batts, a sophomore guard, helped lead the LIU-Brooklyn men’s basketball team reach the NCAA Tournament.
Motion offense : Basketball standout Cali Konek transferred to her fourth high school in as many years when she left Southmoreland for Franklin Regional. A 1,500-point career scorer, Konek signed a letter of intent to play at UNC-Charlotte.
Another local athlete, Anthony Johnson, left Jeannette for Cleveland Heights in Ohio. A football and basketball standout, Johnson will have attended five schools by the time he graduates.
D-I freshmen : College recruiting has changed drastically, especially in softball where offers are finding theit way to players much earlier than in past years.
A few of local freshmen players made verbal commitments years ahead of their college careers. Mt. Pleasant’s Haylie Brunson gave the nod to Lousiana-Lafayette, and teammate Courtney Poulich verbally pledged to Liberty. Hempfield’s Emma Hoffner committed to St. Francis (Pa.).
Feeling a draft : The Los Angeles Angels selected Tyler Smith, a senior pitcher from Canisius and a Penn-Trafford graduate, in the eighth round of the Major League Baseball Draft.
Also, Seton Hill pitcher Perry DellaValle was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 27th round.
Griffins repeat : Seton Hill baseball won its second consecutive PSAC baseball title. Griffins coach Marc Marizzaldi won his 500th game.
Cast the Stone: Coveted basketball player Brandon Stone, a 6-foot-11 swing-forward from Alverton, signed with La Salle. Stone left Southmoreland to play at The Christ School in Arden, N.C.
No hoop for you : Westmoreland County Community College had to cancel its women’s basketball season because of a shortage of players. A turbulent coaching change might have led to the departure of would-be returning players.
Bill Beckner is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BillBeckner.