Westmoreland basketball notebook: Franklin Regional, Mars set for another playoff meeting

Tuesday, March 2, 2021 | 2:00 PM

Rivalry is a strong word.

Franklin Regional and Mars have a history, yes. But it’s more of a friendly get-together when they play than a mean-spirited rivalry.

You could argue Franklin Regional had more of a competitive spark with Highlands before the Golden Rams went to Class 4A. (They’re back in 5A now).

Still, the boys basketball teams will meet again at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the WPIAL Class 5A first round at Mars. Franklin Regional (8-7) is seeded 12th, while Mars (14-3) is No. 5.

“We’re all pumped to play them again,” Panthers junior guard Caden Smith said. “They’re going to get our best game.”

The former section opponents met in the 2018 WPIAL title game at Petersen Events Center. Mars won, 55-44.

The Fightin’ Planets have won five straight against the Panthers.

“Mars is a championship-type program,” Franklin Regional coach Steve Scorpion said. “There’s is a reason they won back-to-back WPIAL championships. It’s a great test for our program, but our kids will be ready to compete.”

The “rivalry” even extends to boys soccer. Franklin Regional played Mars for the WPIAL Class 3A title last fall. Mars won 2-1 in overtime to deny the Panthers a WPIAL three-peat.

“We’re ready from soccer,” said Franklin Regional senior guard Luke Kimmich, also a key player on the pitch. “We’re ready for it.”

The winner of Franklin Regional-Mars plays the winner of Trinity-Highlands in the quarterfinals Saturday.

GCC home again?

With Gov. Tom Wolf increasing gathering limits for indoor events to 15%, regardless of venue size (no maximum number), Greensburg Central Catholic is trying to get back the home-court advantage it earned for the WPIAL Class 2A playoffs.

GCC, the No. 2 seed, will play at No. 18 Serra Catholic in McKeesport on Wednesday night in the first round. But GCC has inquired to the WPIAL about possibly hosting a quarterfinal should the Centurions advance.

Higher-seeded teams are allowed to host playoff games through the semifinals, should their facility fit WPIAL criteria. The WPIAL said gyms had to have a capacity of 700 or more to host, but GCC’s gym holds 625. Only 10% of venues could be used to seat spectators, which shakes out to about half home and visiting fans.

If the shoe fits

Jeannette getting shoes as gifts for its boys basketball team is becoming a tradition.

Davonte Shannon, a former Jayhawks standout, donated shoes to the team on the eve of the playoffs.

Last year, former megastar alum Terrelle Pryor did the same thing and the year before that, another former standout, Demetrious Cox, delivered fresh Nikes.

“The great thing is I didn’t ask them,” Jeannette coach Adrian Batts said. “They wanted to give back. They care about the community and the kids. I’m so thankful for those three giving back to the kids; it means so much to me as their former coach.”

Shannon, a retired football player who starred at Buffalo and had a brief taste of the NFL, said he wanted give back to his alma mater.

“I wanted to let Jeannette know that I care about them and love my city,” said Shannon, who works as a car salesman in Buffalo. “I know it wasn’t much, but I just wanted to let them know I care about them boys, and I know what’s it’s like being a Jayhawk.”

First time for everything

The Derry and Ligonier Valley boys pulled off first-time benchmarks for their programs with victories in the WPIAL preliminary round.

Derry registered its first postseason win as Derry Area, while Ligonier Valley won its first under its current name.

Derry downed Southmoreland, 64-39, while Ligonier Valley rolled past Brownsville, 80-41, in its first WPIAL playoff game since joining the league from District 6 last year.

A couple of fire trucks awaited Derry players and coaches outside the gym after their home win Monday. The Trojans football team has made it a custom to have sirens and flashing lights after big wins and accomplishments.

“It’s been tradition the last couple years for the fire trucks to be at the football games, and for them to escort the buses back after big playoff wins,” Derry senior guard Josh Ulery said. “We obviously couldn’t be escorted home, but they still wanted to do something for us. I think it shows how the Derry community rallies around the sports teams.”

Ligonier Valley, known as Ligonier for decades before a merger with Laurel Valley in 2010, had last won a WPIAL playoff basketball game in 1945.

That year, Ligonier played three teams that also would eventually merge with other schools. It defeated Export — now part of Franklin Regional — 66-32, in the first round; defeated South Union — now part of Laurel Highlands — 48-45, in the quarterfinals; and lost to Etna — now part of Shaler — 46-22, in the semifinals.

“It feels so good. We were all excited,” Ligonier Valley junior guard Matthew Marinchak said of the Rams’ latest win. “It felt like we won the NBA championship, but on the bus I told the guys, (Tuesday) it’s straight back to work, we’re not done yet, and we have a tough game coming up.”

Marinchak had 30 points, six 3-pointers, six rebounds, six assists and five steals in the opener.

The Rams played in three straight District 6 championship games before moving into District 7.

He said it

“It’s March Madness now and stuff happens. I hope we can compete against (Quaker Valley) and see what we can do.” — Derry coach Tom Esposito

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

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