Westmoreland boys basketball notebook: Franklin Regional looking toward future

Thursday, February 20, 2020 | 7:49 PM

Franklin Regional coach Steve Scorpion was frustrated after his team lost in the final seconds to South Fayette on Monday night in the WPIAL Class 5A first round at Peters Township.

The Lions’ Kade St. Ledger made a layup with 4.8 seconds left to clip the Panthers, 48-46, giving Scorpion his first early exit in his three-year tenure leading Franklin Regional.

The back-and-forth game could have gone either way. But instead, it marked the end of a painfully short season.

The Panthers had become used to long playoff runs. The team reached the WPIAL finals in 2018 and the quarterfinals last year. They made the PIAA playoffs both years.

But Scorpion, who thought he had a legitimate sleeper on his hands with the 11-12 Panthers, quickly turned his focus to the future. A team that saw its depth increase as the season wore on had a win-now mentality of course, but Scorpion also had an eye to the future.

“It’s alright,” he said. “I full expect to be back here next year. We developed nine guys who all will be back. I think we can be strong again, get back to the playoffs and compete for a WPIAL championship.”

The Panthers lose only three seniors: Logan Summerhill, Johnny O’Toole and Jacob Brush. An Edinboro recruit, Summerhill averaged 16 points, and O’Toole will be tough to replace with his 6-foot-7 size.

“We will have some talent back, and our guys will work hard to get back here,” Scorpion said.

Whitlock brings experience

Belle Vernon made the WPIAL semifinals two years ago when the current seniors were sophomores, but those players saw little playing time.

Devin Whitlock was in eighth grade in 2018, but he has been a difference-maker since transferring from Monessen, where he led a spirited playoff run last season. Whitlock might be young, but he has the most playoff experience on the team.

Belle Vernon (17-6), the No. 6 seed in WPIAL Class 4A, will play No. 3 Quaker Valley (17-5) on Saturday in the quarterfinals, and Whitlock will look to have his teammates ready.

Monessen made the WPIAL and PIAA Class A semifinals last year with Whitlock doing much of the scoring as a freshman.

“It helps to have the experience of being on the floor, the atmosphere,” Whitlock said. “Everybody on our team knows their role, and they are prepared and practice. They put in the work.”

The Leopards lost senior guard Cam Nusser to a left ankle injury early in Wednesday’s 65-44 win over Derry in the first round.

“We wanted to finish the game and get the win for him,” Whitlock said. “He would do anything to be back on the court.”

Whitlock said he is a better player this season compared to last.

“I think I am shooting the ball better, and I am more aggressive getting to the basket,” he said. “I am also working to be better on defense.”

Belle Vernon was the only Westmoreland team, boys or girls, to win in the first round this year.

Nusser ailing

Belle Vernon likely will play without Nusser in the quarterfinals. The senior has a badly sprained left ankle.

He would not, however, rule himself out for Saturday’s game.

“I am going to see what my limits are with it,” he said. “I’m going to do anything humanly possible to be out there.”

Nusser will have a MRI to determine the severity of the sprain.

Big 5/6 all-stars

The Big 5/6 Conference website, which recognizes the accomplishments of the WPIAL’s two largest classifications, announced its all-section teams for this season.

Local players selected to the Class 6A first team in Section 3 were Hempfield junior Christian Zilli and senior Marcus McCarthy, Latrobe senior Michael Noonan, Penn-Trafford’s Zach Rocco and Ty Bilinsky of Mt. Pleasant.

Section 1-5A first-team selections included Greensburg Salem senior Dante Parsons, and Logan Summerhill of Franklin Regional made the Section 3-5A first team.

Early exits

Local teams had a short stay in the WPIAL postseason, a strange occurrence for some of them.

Monessen, in the postseason for a district-record 39th straight time, was ousted in the first round for the first time since 2006 when it lost to Union, 46-41.

Monessen has been one-and-done in more recent history, losing in the 2018 quarterfinals after a bye and in the 2010 preliminary round, but it had been some time since the Greyhounds lost in a first-round game.

They also posted their first losing season since 2013.

Greensburg Central Catholic, which was upset by No. 13 Eden Christian, 66-56, hadn’t lost in the first round since 2009.

And Franklin Regional had not lost in the first round since 2011. The Panthers dropped a preliminary-round game in 2016.

Penn-Trafford lost to Central Catholic, 50-35. The Warriors have not won a playoff game since 2001.

Doubleheader to watch

Norwin will be the site of a notable quarterfinal doubleheader Friday night. Jeannette (15-7), the No. 3 seed in Class 2A, will take on No. 6 Shenango (18-5) at 6:30 p.m., followed by Penn Hills (18-4) and Laurel Highlands (14-8) at 8.

Penn Hills is the top seed in Class 5A, and Laurel Highlands features one of the WPIAL’s most promising freshman players in guard Rodney Gallagher.

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

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