Latrobe hoping to pull off another upset in Penguins Cup championship game
Since 2008, Latrobe has won four PIHL Penguins Cup Class AA titles.
The Wildcats would like to add a fifth when they take on Plum at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday for the championship at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry.
Latrobe claimed titles from 2008-10 and another in 2013, but this group of players has not lifted the trophy.
“It's a great opportunity for these kids. Last year, we graduated the last kids to play in the last Penguins Cup for Latrobe,” Latrobe coach Josh Werner said. “These kids have never been to a Penguins Cup. It's been a great journey and we have one more to go.”
Getting past the top-seeded Mustangs (18-2-1) will be a challenge for the Wildcats (12-9-1). Both teams play in the Western Conference, and Plum won both meetings by a pair of goals.
“No one thought we'd be here right now. We're kind of using that to our advantage,” Werner said. “No one (around the league) believes in these kids except for the coaches and those in the locker room. We knew we could make a run at this thing.”
Plum led the division with 117 goals. However, the Wildcats finished third with 98. That concerns the Mustangs.
“Latrobe is a very good team and, with their bracket over there, they're dangerous,” Plum coach Vinnie Somma said. “I think we just have to play smart because they can score. There's no doubt about that.”
Added Plum center Anthony Borriello, who had a hat trick in the team's 5-2 semifinal win over Hempfield: “They have a lot of highly skilled players, and we're going to have to come ready to play and give it our all.”
Latrobe hopes to be the second lower seed in as many years to win a Class AA championship.
Last season, Bishop Canevin entered the Penguins Cup playoffs as a No. 3 seed and it claimed the title.
The fourth-seeded Wildcats beat Mars, 5-4, in a play-in game and upset Moon, the West's top seed, 6-3, in the quarterfinals.
They upset third-seeded Quaker Valley, 6-3, in the semifinals.
Latrobe's consecutive 6-3 wins are a departure from the team's usual close finishes. In the regular season, 11 of the team's 19 games were decided by two goals or less.
The Wildcats posted a 3-7-1 record in those contests. They claimed their only close playoff game.
“We've worked so hard this year, and we've been in so many close games that we knew the effort it'd take to get here,” Werner said. “We want to be sure that, when we earn opportunities, we cash in on them. I think that's what got us here — we've done that in big games.”
Another key for Latrobe is that it has scored first in its playoff games — all of them coming from Rossi. He's not the only one finding the back of the net, though. Jared Schimizzi, Gerg Ferri and Cory Gates all have three goals and Jack Schultheis, Jacob Burkardt, Cole Novak, Brantley Miller and Jarred Stein have scored, as well.
“We're all clicking right now,” said Rossi, who was one of six different Latrobe players to score against the Quakers. “We're getting goals from guys who don't usually score, too, which is nice. We just want to keep it rolling.”
Meanwhile, Plum has fallen behind in both of its playoff games.
The Mustangs were down 1-0 to Shaler, in the quarterfinals.
The score was tied 2-2 after the first, but Plum scored the next three for a 5-2 win. The Mustangs fell behind Hempfield, 1-0, and trailed 2-1 after the first but notched the next four goals.
“I think we get better every game,” Borriello said. “We always take things in that we learn and adjust our game so we can get to that championship.”
Joe Sager is a freelance writer.