Franklin Regional's PIAA run ends in 2nd round
Banners hanging from the ceiling above Franklin Regional's boys basketball team Thursday night at Farrell High School reminded the Panthers they raced up and down a floor belonging to one of the most storied programs in PIAA history.
Unfortunately for Franklin Regional, its story of pursuing state glory ended on that floor.
Unable to rally against District 10 champion Meadville after falling behind midway through the second quarter, the Panthers exited the PIAA Class 5A tournament with a 80-64 loss in the second round. The Bulldogs (24-1) advanced to the quarterfinals, where they will meet WPIAL fourth-place finisher Mars on Saturday at a time and site to be determined.
“We wanted to start out hot, but unfortunately things didn't go our way in the second half,” senior guard Zane Flynn said. “But that environment was fantastic, even if it wasn't a home crowd.”
Flynn led the Panthers with 18 points, and junior Hunter Stonecheck had 16 points.
That one-two punch struggled to match the production of Meadville senior Armoni Foster, who tallied 30 points. Senior guard Simeal Wofford and 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Lashon Lindsey complemented Foster with 18 and 19 points, respectively.
A basket in the paint by Lindsey gave Meadville a 21-20 lead it never relinquished with 6 minutes, 15 seconds left in the second quarter. Franklin Regional, down 34-27 at the half, could not get closer than six in the second half.
“I think the biggest thing that affected us was the 2-2-1 zone,” coach Brad Midgley said. “Once they went zone, it seemed like we got seven or eight wide-open 3's in the second quarter and didn't make any of them. I told some of these guys I loved the aggressiveness trying to rebound, but a lot of times what happened was after one miss, it'd lead to a two-on-one on the way back.”
Franklin Regional (14-12) hoped to follow its first PIAA playoff win since 1997, a first-round upset of WPIAL champion Moon last Friday, with another step toward its first berth in the state title game since that season two decades ago. Meadville, which topped WPIAL third-place finisher Chartiers Valley in the first round, hardly held an edge in PIAA experience, as the Bulldogs' most recent state tournament win came in a 2008 play-in game.
But other elements in the matchup and its setting tested the Panthers' ability to find and sustain success.
That included the venue. Almost a week after the Panthers stunned Moon in front of the relatively friendly and familiar confines of Plum High School, they found themselves in front of a loud and pro-District 10 crowd at Farrell.
Those in the stands loyal to Meadville mustered less noise than expected through the game's first four minutes, as the Panthers put together a run to lead 10-2 halfway through the opening quarter. A flustered set of Bulldogs, unable to slow down Franklin Regional's fast break or deny second-chance scoring opportunities, headed to their bench after coach Mark McElhinny called a timeout.
Foster, responsible for the game's first points, made certain that the Bulldogs responded to Franklin Regional's tempo with equal eagerness to race down the court. His eight points in the first quarter, combined with a transition lay-up and 3-pointer from senior guard Simeal Wofford, helped Meadville cut its deficit to 20-15 by the start of the second quarter.
Stonecheck provided the scoring punch early, as he showcased their strength in the paint and their confidence in space. He delivered two putbacks, a 3-pointer, a fast-break layup and a drive down the center lane in the opening quarter.
Meadville responded with its own blend of size and speed.
“We took some risks, and they didn't pay off,” Flynn said. “We couldn't keep up with their transition offense. That's where they changed the tide of the game.”
Bill West is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.