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Franklin Regional scrapping to end in Section 2-AAAA race

| Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Daily News
Franklin Regional's Matt Fisch dribbles past McKeesport's Tywann Smith on Friday, Janaury 31, 2014 at McKeesport.

A season-long scrap for playoff spots in Section 2-AAAA boys basketball is down to its final week, and the race remains as murky as ever.

Franklin Regional (13-6, 8-4) began the week locked in a second-place tie with Fox Chapel, Gateway and Pittsburgh Central Catholic for one of three remaining WPIAL Class AAAA playoff spots from the section. First-place Plum (16-2, 10-2) clinched a postseason berth last week.

“It's definitely an exciting feeling,” Franklin Regional coach Brad Midgley said. “I think most of the teams involved kind of thought there was a chance this would happen. We've all kind of beaten up on each other a little bit and put ourselves in a position the last week of the season where if you win a couple games here, you put yourself in a pretty good position at the end of the standings.

“At the same time, you've got to stay focused at what we have to do at hand and hopefully take care of some details and put ourselves in position to try to win some basketball games.”

Each team in the four-way tie for second place had two games remaining entering the week. Franklin Regional hosted last-place Woodland Hills on Tuesday and will travel to play Plum on Friday. Fox Chapel's remaining games were against Plum and Central Catholic, Gateway's were against Central Catholic and McKeesport and Central Catholic's were against Fox Chapel and Gateway.

“Every game means so much to everybody,” senior Matt Fisch said. “You have to win (each) game or you could be the team on the outside looking in at the end of the year.”

What makes the section race especially uncertain this season is that many of the teams tied for second place split their season series against each other. Franklin Regional split its matchups with Central Catholic, Fox Chapel and Gateway, losing to all three on the road and beating all three at home. The WPIAL uses head-to-head competition as the first tiebreaker when it comes to determining playoff spots.

The Panthers picked up a key victory last week, overcoming a nine-point deficit in the third quarter to beat Gateway, 62-53.

“The last thing you want to do is let a team get you twice (because) at the end of the year, you're hoping you don't end up tied with them because they would get that tiebreaker,” Midgley said. “We all know each other so well, and most of us take care of our home court pretty well. As long as you can take care of your home court, sometimes the ball will bounce your way on the road and it puts you in a good position.”

Franklin Regional also won an important road game last week, beating McKeesport, 68-54, on Friday night. The Panthers took advantage of the absence of McKeesport forward Khalil Perdue, outrebounding the Tigers, 42-21. George Brown scored 10 points and pulled down 11 rebounds, Fisch added 14 points and seven rebounds and Matt Renzi scored 21 points.

“We really dominated the offensive rebounding,” Fisch said. “One of their best players wasn't playing, so we had to take a different mindset. We came out strong and handled our business.”

Fisch said the team was taking a “business as usual” approach into its final two games. Tuesday's contest against Woodland Hills ended past the deadline for this week's edition, while the Plum game will take place at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

“We've got to go in, win the games and take care of our business and get ready for the playoffs,” Fisch said.

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830, via email at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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