Zach Rocco, Penn-Trafford boys hold off Franklin Regional comeback bid

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Friday, December 27, 2019 | 9:10 PM


As a 15-point lead faded to five midway through the fourth quarter Friday night, Penn-Trafford did not take on the look of a timid team.

Even with inexperienced juniors and sophomores new to that scene handling the ball against full-court pressure and Franklin Regional chipping away, the Warriors showed no trepidation.

Point guard Zach Rocco made sure of that.

The Warriors’ only senior and floor leader scored a career-high 32 points and helped keep things under control late as he and his teammates held off the Panthers, 56-48, in the Penn-Trafford Holiday Tournament.

Rocco, a fourth-year starter, had 12 points in the second quarter and 10 in the fourth as the upstart Warriors moved to 7-1.

They recently returned from the KSA Tournament in Orlando, Fla., where they went 2-1, sustaining their only loss to Central Virginia, 64-55.

Penn-Trafford was glad to play just its second home game of the season.

“We were excited to play because we had just been in Florida,” Rocco said. “Everybody is excited to play after Christmas. We didn’t play our best, but that happens. We’re a good team and we have room, sometimes, if we don’t play great, to have others contribute.”

Junior Josh Kapcin added 11 points for Penn-Trafford, which rode Rocco’s hot hand and a rip-away defense to a 30-21 halftime lead.

There were times in the first half when the Warriors literally tore the ball away from Franklin Regional (3-6) players.

“Defensive plays lead to offense for us,” Rocco said. “Our back line defense is one of the best that we’ve played throughout my four years. When we get steals and get out and run, it gets the crowd hyped up. It gets everyone hyped up. That’s how you start the game.”

Sophomore Nick Crum, Rocco and Kapcin led an early third quarter run that allowed the Warriors to increase the advantage to 39-24.

“Our guys continue to get better and gain experience,” Penn-Trafford coach Jim Rocco said. “It wasn’t superb but as coach, you’re immersed in moments. We need to be better in certain situations. It’s like tennis and we’re hitting the ball into the net.”

Self-inflicted mistakes or not by Penn-Trafford, the Panthers did not go quietly.

Senior Logan Summerhill scored all 15 of his team’s points in the second quarter and finished with 21. He was limited to one field goal after halftime, so junior guard Luke Kimmich stepped up and buried back-to-back 3-pointers before sophomore Caden Smith hit from deep to cut it to 44-39 with about five minutes remaining in the fourth.

Kimmich made three 3-pointers in the final quarter for nine points. The rest of the Panthers’ rotation, though, combined for 17 points.

“We’re not playing a complete game,” Franklin Regional coach Steve Scorpion said. “It’s the same thing every game. We did the same thing against Pine-Richland. Same thing against Mars. We’re not playing hard enough and aggressive enough. We came back, but we’d make a bad pass or take a bad shot.”

Penn-Trafford used a 7-0 spurt to stretch the lead back to 51-39 as Kapcin made two free throws, then scored off a steal.

Summerhill hit a short jumper to make it 51-45 with two minutes left, but Zach Rocco made 5 of 6 free throws in the closing minute to seal it.

“I thought we made (Zach Rocco) work in the second half,” Scorpion said. “Penn-Trafford is a good team, but we need to play with more energy.”

Penn-Trafford plays McKeesport (4-2) at 3 p.m. Saturday as the round-robin tournament concludes. Franklin Regional takes on Norwin (6-1) at 1.

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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