FR boys lacrosse fights to the end in playoff defeat
The Franklin Regional boys lacrosse team's season ended last week, but not before the Panthers made a late charge against the top team in the WPIAL.
Trailing, 15-4, with five minutes remaining in a WPIAL playoff opener at Mt. Lebanon, Franklin Regional scored the final six goals of the game to end the season with a 15-10 defeat.
Despite the loss, coach Dave Alexander said he liked the way his team kept fighting against the top-seeded Blue Devils.
“We never gave up,” Alexander said. “They played a full 48 minutes, which is what I've been preaching all year. They gave me everything they had, really.”
Alexander said the effort his team showed continued a season-long trend.
The Panthers (8-9) finished the season with an overall losing record, but they had a 5-2 mark in WPIAL Division 1, Section 2.
That record included a 9-6 victory April 15 over section co-champion North Allegheny, which will play Mt. Lebanon in the WPIAL lacrosse championship game Thursday night. It was the Tigers' only section loss.
Alexander said his team also came within 10 seconds of beating the other section co-champ, Shady Side Academy, before the Indians scored to tie the score. Shady Side Academy won, 7-6, in overtime.
“To be able to make playoffs in our section, I'm very proud of that,” Alexander said. And if we're able to beat Shady Side, we're actually (the) No. 1 team in the section.
“That's how close being a No. 1 and a No. 4 in the playoffs comes down to.”
Franklin Regional will lose many contributors to this year's team, as a total of 11 seniors will graduate.
On the back end, the Panthers will lose all-region defender Luke Stephens and goalkeeper Luke Zottola. Connor Cummins, Nate Fleck and Michael Nejack will all return, giving the Panthers defensive strength next season.
Franklin Regional will lose attackers Willy Jackson, Shawn McDonnell, Kyle O'Rourke and Tanner Roberts, leaving space to fill on the front line. Alexander said he will look to junior varsity players to fill those positions.
Midfielder Devin Arrigo, whom Alexander called a “phenomenal athlete,” will return next year, as will attacker Justin Naugle.
Last week's loss marked Franklin Regional's third straight first-round exit from the postseason.
Alexander said the team would focus on transition work before next season after it became a strength for the Panthers in the second half of this season.
Additionally, Franklin Regional will focus on finishing games better. Of the Panthers' nine losses, four came by two goals or fewer — including three one-goal losses.
“It's just something we have to be able to be able to do, finish a game better next year,” Alexander said. “If we win those four or five games — and some of them weren't section games, but still — we turn an 8-8 regular season record with even just two or three of those wins into a 10-6 or 11-5 record. If you ask me, that's the type of record that I feel this team played up to this year.”
While the Panthers' end result was disappointing, Alexander said he enjoyed his first year as coach. The former junior varsity coach played for two Franklin Regional championship teams in the 1990s and hopes to lead his alma mater to another title soon.
“Even though we didn't win as many games as our goal was, I know that the players had a great time as well. (There was) a lot of teambuilding, a lot of team unity, a lot of togetherness. We had a great bunch of kids on the team.”
Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.