MERCER COUNTY —
Hickory High head football coach Bill Brest has been the hunter and the hunted during the last 2 years alone.
His Hornets head into Saturday’s showdown with Grove City as the defending District 10 Class AA champion. Additionally, Hickory harvested a 41-12 regular-season win.
However Grove City also is a defending district titlist, having hurdled Cathedral Prep last year in AAA, before the biennial PIAA enrollment cycle eased the Eagles into AA this year.
So who has the edge, the Hornets or Eagles?
“I don’t know if anybody has the advantage,” Brest admitted.
“I know (Grove City head coach) Jeff Bell; he and I go back and forth,” Brest began. “But the way we were seeded for the playoffs with District 10 (committee), we are the extreme underdogs. If we’re to get to where we’re headed, we’re going to have to pull off three major upsets, based on the seeding by District 10.
“We’re definitely the underdogs,” Brest reiterated. “I recognize (Bell) had a few kids out that week. But they have fifty-five kids; we have thirty-five, and we had a bunch out, too.”
Since its lone loss at New Wilmington (35-28) in Week 3, the Hornets harvested 7 straight successes, including last week’s opening-round rout of Northwestern (48-22). Similarly, since its humbling in Hermitage the Grovers garnered 6 consecutive wins, knocking off North East (56-14) in last week’s tournament lidlifter.
“On film, Grove City seems to be much better than earlier in the year,” assessed Brest, who may view more video than ESPN’s Ron Jaworski. “And on film we’re much better. Both teams are much better in all facets, so I don’t know who has the advantage,” he repeated, noting, “I just know it’ll be a great football game.”
Bell recalled the ’04 season when the Eagles soared to the PIAA championship game, losing the opener to Harbor Creek (34-21), then exacting a measure of vengence in the D-10 title tilt (33-7).
“It seems the last few years we’ve had scenarios where we’ve played the same team twice,” Bell acknowledged, adding ominously, “but this is a different beast in Hickory. This is a very good football team.
“Even if everyone’s healthy, it’s gonna take a heck of an effort.”
But Bell’s banged up bunch is not appreciatively healthier than Week 4. Harold Price, Justin Fulkerson and McKenzie Patterson are presumed out, though mountainous lineman Shaun Smoker is back. Hickory’s Michael Nardone and Jordan Wombacker are not completely healthy, Brest said, but Michael Palumbo has returned.
“It’s been a whole laundry list,” Bell admitted, however adding, “Last week we were as healthy as we’ve been all year.”
Games of this magnitude mean much attention to detail.
“I’m a firm believer in ball-control, field position, taking great care of the football, and the team that makes least amount of mistakes, including penalties,” Brest delineated. “Big games come down to that.
“But one of the things we talk about here on a daily basis, what’s really important to us, is really focusing on field position,” Brest continued. “In the nine games we won, we had better starting field position; the one game we didn’t, we did not have the best starting field position.
“The shorter the field you have to drive, the better percentage (of scoring); the longer the field, the harder it is to score,” Brest reasoned.
Specifically special teams — sometimes the forgotten facet — may be key, Bell said.
“Their special teams are as good as anybody we’ve played all year,” Bell praised. “We play solid special teams, but they are so dangerous they make you do things you don’t want to do.”
That could lead to some trickeration. Bell noted his clubs have attempted onside kickoffs in almost every game this year.
“We’re putting in a game plan and hoping our kids can execute it,” Bell said. “We’ve picked out a few things we think we do well offensively, and that’s what we’re gonna do. Defensively, we have a couple wrinkles we’ll use. But we’ll do what we do and hope the kids play a good game.”
Brest recalled a 29-28 semifinals win over Gen. McLane 2 years ago, before bowing to Sharon (14-6) in the D-10 title tilt. Last season the Hornets laid a 35-13 loss on the Lancers to lay claim to the crown.
Similarly, Bell recalled his teams’ troika of tilts with perennial power Cathedral Prep, losing thrice (45-21 semifinals; 47-21, 28-16 in the finals) before breaking through last year (33-0)
“Everybody’s talking about Prep (ranked 2nd in the state in AAA), and this is, pretty much, the same team,” Bell related. “And that (2011 Prep) team is very similar to Hickory as far as they can run the ball, throw the ball. ... We were geared to shutting (Prep’s) passing game down, and fortunately it worked.
“We got beat by (Prep in the ’09 and 2010 D-10 championship games), so we knew going into the season that was the team we had to beat to go on, and our whole year was gearing toward that team,” Bell recalled, admitting, “I think the kids got tired of hearing about them.
“But that was a great effort by our kids and our coaching staff,” Bell praised, quickly adding, “and we’re gonna need that kind of effort, that kind of game (against Hickory).
Playing the disrespect card Brest related, “When the (tournament) seeding came out ... it is what it is. I addressed it one time ... then we moved on. What we decided was to focus on Hickory.
“I don’t care what other people think or what they say about us,” Brest emphasized. “We’re gonna focus on us, we’re gonna focus on ourselves and getting better at doing what we want to do.
“Pressure is what you make of it,” Brest mused. “People on the outside want to put pressure on you. My job and my staff’s job is to foscus our kids so that it’s all internal, and that’s how we’re treating it — it’s another big game against another outstanding opponent.
“We’re just focusing on Hickory; not the pressure outside people want put on us.
“We’re focused on ‘one game, a season,’ one game at a time,” Brest, repeating an oft-uttered refrain. “That’s the mentality we have.
“This year, this game, it’s gonna be two, pretty doggone good football teams. A great Saturday,” Brest concluded.
Recalling last season’s 2nd straight 11-1 campaign (and undefeated regular season), Bell admitted,
“This year’s a little different — we don’t have the depth and experience. But we’ve gotten better as the year’s gone on.
“We lost a lot of people off that (2011) team, but the kids have gotten better and we’ve had a very good season,” Bell continued. “Hopefully, we’ve gotten good enough to compete with Hickory, because I really think they’re one of the best teams in the state. I know Wilmington beat them and I’m not slighting anyone.
“But if we want to be, we’ll have to beat them to move on.”
MERCER COUNTY —
Hickory High head football coach Bill Brest has been the hunter and the hunted during the last 2 years alone.
Breese defends heavyweight title at PIAA Championships
HERSHEY, Pa. — Move over Rod Wright!
Lakeview senior heavyweight star Sam Breese had a goal coming into the PIAA State Class AA Wrestling Championships this weekend at Hershey Giant Center — besides winning a second state crown, that is.
WM knocks off Neshannock in PIAA playoffs
SLIPPERY ROCK — The notion of Trey Staunch sneaking up on opposing teams is laughable. At 6-foot-3 and approximately 225 pounds, the stout Staunch is not sneaking up on anyone.
However after posting a game-high 31-point, 18-rebound performance in West Middlesex High basketball team’s 76-66 PIAA Class AA playoffs opening-round win over Neshannock Saturday night, Staunch said opponents may have been overlooking the Big Reds.
Hickory girls 26-0, oust Johnstown
SLIPPERY ROCK — At Morrow Field House Saturday evening, the Hickory Lady Hornets kept the perfect season alive with a 63-37 state playoff first round win over the Greater Johnstown Trojans from District 6.
“It feels great to get the win (Saturday),” said veterans Hickory coach Jeanette Whitehead. “We’ve been at this place over the last few years and we’ve been sent home in the first round so it was a huge win for us. I’m very proud of our team effort."
KC girls roll past California in PIAA playoffs
SLIPPERY ROCK — Kennedy Catholic High girls’ basketball team was in the ’hood Saturday afternoon.
Led by senior Taylor Hood, the Lady Golden Eagles eased past California, 53-34, in the opening round of the PIAA Class A playoffs.
Lakeview's Breese to defend PIAA title
HERSHEY, Pa. — If you are Major League Baseball player, a .333 batting average is great. But in wrestling at the state tournament — not so much!
Out of the dozen wrestlers that Mercer County sent to Hershey for the PIAA State Class AA Wrestling Championships, only four (.333) will reach the medal stand today — led by Lakeview senior Sam Breese who shoots for a second straight gold medal.
Farrell edges Montour, 60-57, in PIAA opener
Montour High boys’ basketball coach Adam Kaufman lamented another season-ending setback. However there are several hundred coaches across the Commonwealth who envy his program’s recent success and would trade places with him in a heartbeat.
But during Friday night’s PIAA Class AAA playoff opener, Kaufman & Co. could not overcome those streaky Steelers ... those survivin’ Steelers.
“ ... Hey, survive and move on,” summarized Steelers’ skipper Roland Shannonhouse following Farrell’s 60-57 win at Sharon High.
GCC ousts Mercer in 1st round of PIAAs
The Mercer Lady Mustangs were outscored 16-4 in the final quarter of the first round of the state playoffs by the Greensburg Central Catholic Centurions, ending their season Friday night 56-31 at Sharon High School.
Senior Lexie Arkwright had a 20-point, 10-rebound double-double performance for the Lady M’s. She also snagged three steals. Adelyn Cook and Haylie Glass each added 4 points for Mercer.
5 area matmen to quarterfinals in Hershey
HERSHEY — Mercer County matmen had mixed results on the opening day of action in the PIAA State Class AA Wrestling Championships at the Giant Center.
Only 5 of the county’s dozen entries — led by defending state champ Sam Breese of Lakeview (285) — won their preliminary matches to move into the tournament quarterfinals which begin at 9 a.m. today. However the other 7 lost their first matches, although 3 are still alive in the consolations heading into this morning’s action.
Coach Chad Mild's Big Reds are road warriors
West Middlesex High boys basketball team did not play its first home game until after the first of the year, but competing at New Castle, Farrell and Youngstown’s Covelli Centre has served it well.
Witness West Middlesex’s 55-54 win over Fairview in last weekend’s District 10 Class AA championship game — at Edinboro University’s McComb Field House.
Boys PIAA basketball preview boxes
Who: Farrell (22-3) vs. Montour (16-8).
What: Opening round.
When: 7:30 p.m. today.
Where: Sharon High’s Tiger Gymnasium.
Hickory, Mercer, KC girls PIAA playoff boxes
Who: Hickory (25-0) vs. Greater Johnstown (11-14).
What: PIAA Playoffs, 1st round.
When: 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Slippery Rock University.
Shannonhouse's Steelers set for statewide stage
With the approaching spring, a young man’s fancy turns to ... what else? The PIAA playoffs. And when Shenango Valley scholastic basketball aficionados think of the postseason they think of Farrell.
Recently at E.J. McCluskey Gymnasium, the banners above were blowing in the breeze — ’52 ... ’54 ... ’56 ... ’59 ... ’60 ... ’69 ... ’72 — swaying as sprinting players created a vacuum of air rising from the floor. Melodramatic maybe, but there’s a feeling at Farrell that harkens back to the heyday when playoff success was a rite of passage.
Breese eyes repeat at state mat tourney
There is no doubt that winning a state championship in wrestling is a difficult thing to do. Winning two is even tougher.
“There’s a target on your chest,” pointed out Lakeview High coach Tom Tingley in preseason this year, referring to his star wrestler Sam Breese who won a state heavyweight crown as a junior last year.
Obviously that target hasn’t bothered the Sailors big man who is a perfect 32-0 this season as he attempts to become only the 12th Mercer County matman to win multiple titles.
WRESTLING NOTEBOOK: It's a young group of county matmen headed to state
THERE’S definitely a youth movement in Mercer County wrestling as demonstrated by the group of 11 matmen who are advancing to the PIAA State Class AA Championships on Thursday.
Eight of the locals are underclassmen. The only seniors are Lakeview’s Sam Breese (285), Reynolds’ Levi Stoyer (145) and Jamestown’s Mohamed Messai (182).
Breese and Stoyer are the only returning state place-winners. Breese, who has verbally committed to Kent State University to wrestle next season, won the heavyweight class and is seeking a second gold medal. Stoyer placed 7th at 145 and wants to climb much higher on the medals stand.
Kennedy boys forfeit win, are out of playoffs
The PIAA basketball playoffs do not begin until Friday, but Mercer County already lost a team.
Kennedy Catholic High disclosed Monday the discovery of an academically-ineligible player, who competed in last Friday’s District 10 Class A consolation contest.
Kennedy Catholic edged Eisenhower in double-OT, 66-62, earning a berth in the statewide tournament. The Golden Eagles were to meet District 9 champion Ridgway Friday at Clarion University’s Tippin Gymnasium in the opening round; instead, Eisenhower will represent D-10 as its 3rd-place team.
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