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Peters Township completes unlikely playoff run with Class 3A state title

| Saturday, March 25, 2017, 9:03 p.m.

Peters Township's magical postseason ride resulted in another gold medal Saturday.

The Indians notched their fourth-straight upset victory with a 2-1 decision over Holy Ghost Prep for the Pennsylvania Cup Class 3A championship at RMU Island Sports Center.

“This is great,” Peters Township senior captain Will Barnes said. “It was probably the best experience of my life so far. I wouldn't trade it for the world.”

During its surprising postseason run, Peters Township (14-8-2) knocked off the top three seeds (Canon-McMillan, North Allegheny, Central Catholic) to claim its sixth Penguins Cup title. The Indians went 0-5-1 against those teams during the regular season. Their postseason run concluded with the decision over the Firebirds (22-3-1), who captured two of the past three Flyers Cup crowns as well as the 2015 state title.

“Holy Ghost Prep has a fantastic lineup; they are well-coached all the time. They are always there (in the championship race),” Peters Township coach Rick Tingle said. “We just put it together at the right time. Sometimes, you get a little lucky and sometimes you get unlucky.”

Tingle was happy to see his team reinvent itself in order to just reach the playoffs.

“The team had a great run. Sometimes, a good three weeks makes a whole year. We weren't all that great,” Tingle added. “I busted their butts in practice and they hated me — Jan. 31, at that, point, I'll guarantee they hated me because we were sprinting three times a practice. They changed their discipline; they changed the way they were playing; they adjusted every game in the playoffs.

“During that time, everybody showed at practice — we had 29 guys at practice and nine of them know they're not playing, but they were out there working their butts off, too.”

The Indians opened the scoring when Ryan Luppe tallied a power-play goal 8 minutes, 5 seconds into the first period. Along the near post, he gathered a rebound and fired it into a wide-open net for the lead.

It stayed 1-0 until 4:45 into the third period when Byron Hartley's goal tied it at 1.

Barnes provided the winner with 3:26 to play. In front of the goal, he buried a rebound for a power-play tally.

“It was crazy. It was a relief to get that one-goal pad. It wasn't much, but it was a relief,” he said. “I knew it wasn't over yet because we had over three minutes to play.”

That's when Peters Township leaned heavily on freshman goaltender Alex Wilbert. He came through and shut the door on the Firebirds, especially during a wild scramble in front of the net in the final seconds.

“I thought it was unreal (when Barnes scored). I knew they had my back (the rest of the way),” he said. “Winning the state championship, there are no words to describe it. It's been incredible. I never dreamed this would have happened my freshman year.”

Wilbert, who took over as the starting goaltender at the start of the postseason, stopped 37 shots to earn the victory.

“He played within himself and let it come to him,” Tingle said. “He was nearly flawless — four goals (against) in four games; I like that.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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