Woodland Hills takes care of Franklin Regional in section showdown

Thursday, January 19, 2023 | 10:47 PM

Woodland Hills flinched, but only slightly, when Franklin Regional cut a 16-point Wolverines advantage to five early in the third quarter.

No worries here, the visitors thought.

The Wolverines didn’t give away the lead. They cauterized it.

Hope Hawkins had a double-double with 18 points and 14 rebounds, and Carmen Vasquez scored 14 points as the junior forwards powered Woodland Hills to a 55-40 victory over Franklin Regional on Thursday night in a matchup of girls basketball teams that came in tied for second place in Section 1-5A.

“Collectively, this was our best game of the year,” Wolverines coach Von Pitts said. “Defensively, we locked in and we were detail-oriented. When we defend like that, we’re at our best.”

The Wolverines (8-9, 5-2), who have won three in a row and 7 of 9, surged to a 25-9 lead late in the first half on the strength of high-percentage bank shots, rebounds and forced turnovers.

But Franklin Regional (5-9, 4-3), which has lost 3 of 4, burned bright in the opening minutes of the second half and looked to make it a game.

Even after shooting 4 for 24 in the first half, the Panthers regrouped and kept firing.

Seniors Brooke Schirmer and Sarah Penrod hit 3-pointers, and Penrod scored on a break to close the gap to 26-21.

Just as quickly as the 10-1 run happened, though, the Wolverines found their rhythm again and scored 16 of the next 17 points to rebuild the advantage to 42-23 with 1 minute, 20 seconds to play in the third.

It was a flash, bang spurt from which Franklin Regional could not recover.

“They really brought the intensity on defense,” Franklin Regional coach Bernie Pucka said of the Wolverines’ play. “We were hesitant on offense, I thought. The better team won tonight.”

Penrod stood out with a game-high 21 points, including four 3-pointers. But the rest of the team combined for 19 points.

“We were in a 1-3-1 but when we went to a 3-2, we made them move the ball more,” the 6-foot-1 Hawkins said. “That is when we had our good stretch.”

Woodland Hills’ 6-2 senior forward, Cierra Guest, moved away from the basket and made a mid-range jumper, and senior point guard Kayla Walter made a short jumper and a 3 as the Wolverines regained control.

“They came out blazing,” Pitts said. “We knew they would. We couldn’t fall into the deception of their offense. They run great sets. I was happy with how we weathered the storm.”

Junior guard Jhalynn Wilson, who did not play in the teams’ first meeting — a 61-47 Franklin Regional win — scored on a drive for the Wolverines to stretch the lead to 20 (44-24).

In their last game, the Panthers played a triangle-and-2 defense. With Wilson back, the plan changed. The Panthers had to guard more straight up, and the Wolverines sped up the pace.

Vasquez, another size problem for teams at 6-foot, helped set the tone early with 10 points in the first quarter.

Woodland Hills outrebounded Franklin Regional, 43-30.

Senior Avery Musto made a 3, and Penrod finished a three-point play late to trim it to 55-40.

“In the last 13 minutes, we competed at a high level,” Pitts said. “We’re looking to continue that.”

Walter and Wilson each had seven points.

The Panthers will look to bounce back Monday to stay in the playoff chase. The top four teams in the section qualify.

“We have to have a short memory,” Pucka said. “We’ll be gassed up for Plum on Monday.”

Franklin Regional assistant Krista Pietropola, the Plum girls’ all-time leading scorer, has not been in her old gymnasium since she left high school seven years ago.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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