Westmoreland high school notebook: Fresh girls hoops coaching faces

Saturday, May 29, 2021 | 4:03 PM

A pair of Westmoreland County girls basketball programs will have new coaches next season.

Franklin Regional recently hired former Plum coach Bernie Pucka, and Greensburg Central Catholic promoted assistant Chris Skatell to head coach.

Both will replace men who coached for three seasons before resigning in the spring.

Pucka replaces Anthony Kobus, and Skatell takes over for Sam Salih.

Plum was under Pucka’s leadership for seven seasons before he stepped down in 2014. He is a longtime Murrysville resident and was an assistant football coach at Franklin Regional in 2005 and ’06. The 2005 team won a PIAA championship.

“I still live by the life lessons coach (Greg) Botta taught me during that run,” said Pucka, who was an assistant at Plum last year. “What a great staff — Anthony Botti, Rich Johns, John Peterman, my brother (Dave Pucka), Dave Heavner, Chad Rollins, Dean Tortorice, Lenny Gallo … These men taught me what it takes to be a great coach, and I fully intend to pass that on to the girls at FR.”

Skatell, an attorney since 1993 who runs his own firm in Greensburg, has been on the GCC staff for a decade. The Latrobe graduate has coached at the AAU level for just as long, including with the Western PA Bruins for the last five.

“I had thought about interviewing (for the head coach position) in the past but never went after it,” Skatell said. “When Sam called me, it made me think more about it. My kids are almost done with college. If there ever was a time to do it, now is the time to try.”

What brought Pucka back to coaching?

“Life has a funny way of coming full circle,” he said. “The same exact reasons that got me into Plum are what got me interested in the FR job. I grew up watching my younger sisters playing ball in various youth leagues at Plum. I knew those girls so well at an early age. I watched as they struggled during their younger years in high school. … I thought to myself, ‘I have to do this.’ Those girls need someone to fight for them.”

He said he is in the “same boat” at Franklin Regional. He has a daughter who is in the sixth grade and plays basketball.

“I’ve watched the FRAA youth program grow and develop,” Pucka said. “I’ve been watching these little girls play since second and third grade. If not now, then when?

“Those girls are going to get the best I’ve got to give.”

Franklin Regional finished 5-10 last season, including a 1-8 mark in Section 4-5A. They lost to Armstrong in the preliminary round of the playoffs, 59-41.

Kobus was 28-33 and led the Panthers to the playoff in his first year.

GCC has a winning tradition that includes 21 straight trips to the WPIAL playoffs. Salih went 9-5 last season and was 42-17 overall, including a 19-4 mark in his first season.

The Centurions won two playoff games last season.

“I just want to get my message across to the kids and see them get better,” said Skatell, who is an assistant softball coach at GCC. “Getting them to do what you want them to do and work together is sometimes more important than X’s and O’s. The thing is, when you get (deep into the playoffs) and everyone matches up the same, it comes down to who wants it more.”

Pucka, a social studies teacher at Plum, also has coached football and track at the junior high at Plum.

Sly Fox

Hempfield senior center fielder Phil Fox made arguably the catch of the year in WPIAL baseball when he snared a fly ball during Tuesday’s 12-2 win over Norwin in the WPIAL 6A semifinals.

Video of the highlight-reel catch went viral and had people requesting the clip be featured on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top Plays.

Ty Stecko hit the ball, which looked like it might sail over Fox’s head. But Fox chased it down, stretched out and made a diving catch before crashing face-first into the fence.

“Stecko cracked it, and I ran straight back but didn’t know the fence was (so close),” Fox said. “The fence came out of nowhere. It wasn’t so much my face as it was my back hurting. It was a fun game. It was great to do that in such a great atmosphere and everything.

“My Twitter blew up (Wednesday) when it was posted.”

D-I offers

Two of the area’s top football playmakers added Division I scholarship offers to their growing lists.

Penn-Trafford junior Cade Yacamelli, a junior running back and defensive back, picked up an offer from Richmond, which joins a number of Ivy League schools to reach out to him. He also has strong interest from all three military academies.

Belle Vernon freshman Quinton Martin added an offer from Maryland, giving him six D-I offers, including Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia.

GS trainer honored

Greensburg Salem athletic trainer Barbara States was named UPMC Athletic Trainer of the Year, earning the recognition over more than 100 trainers in and around WPIAL territory.

A Golden Lions and Pitt alum, States began working at Greensburg Salem in 2015.

“We are so proud of Barb,” Greensburg Salem athletic director Frank Sundry said. “Her work ethic and knowledge is second to none, but I think what sets her apart from other trainers is the empathy and care she provides our athletes. She builds relationships with these kids and truly cares about their well-being on a personal and individual level. She is a great trainer but an even better person.”


Norwin senior basketball player Ty Bilinsky is set to do something he didn’t think would be possible a few months back: play college basketball.

Bilinsky, who overcame several health scares that cost him most of his final high school season — a stroke, a blood disorder and an enlarged spleen — has accepted a walk-on opportunity at Division II Pitt-Johnstown.

A 16-point-per-game scorer as a junior, Bilinsky is a 5-foot-10 guard. He was cleared medically to play again. He had 11 points in the recent Roundball Classic all-star game.

• Belle Vernon junior football star Devin Whitlock picked up an offer from Notre Dame College, a Division II program in Ohio.

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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