By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
There was a time it was taken for granted by graduating Golden Eagles: If you devoted 3 or 4 years to Kennedy Catholic High boys’ basketball program, you could expect District 10 championship trophies on an almost annual basis.
Kennedy Catholic captured 12 consecutive Class A crowns. But for this season’s KC quintet of seniors — Mac Hartman, Jeffrey Thompkins, Jimmy D’Onofrio, Arlen Brewer and A.J. Weldon — hardware has been hard to come by. When KC conquered Cochranton last weekend, it was the proud program’s 1st district title since 2009.
So it will be interesting to see how Kennedy Catholic comes into its PIAA playoffs opening-round contest tonight, as the Golden Eagles (17-6) entertain Lincoln Park Charter (19-6) at Farrell High’s E.J. McCluskey Gymnasium at 7 p.m.
After finally regaining the gold at D-10, will KC be complacent? Or will the Golden Eagles enter the state tournament testy and primed to vindicate themselves for a 70-62 regular-season setback to Lincoln Park?
In the aftermath of last week’s win, 4th-year KC head coach Rick Mancino said, “I’ve been thinking about it for the last year: How many senior classes — from Kennedy’s program — could actually say they’ve won a District 10 championship? So many years. But I’m really excited for them and I want them to enjoy it. They earned it. ... It was a nice win for Kennedy, and I’m happy for the guys.
“ ... It’s a kids’ game, it’s a high school game,” Mancino said. “Everyone puts pressure on coaches — and we wanted to win, I’m not gonna lie. But I’m more happy that they won. I’ve been in that locker room before, and I’m sure coaches will tell you: It’s all about them. I know how hard they work. I’m excited for Mac and Jimmy — they’ve been with us for four years — and Jeff for three years, Arlen just came over this year ... A.J. came a little late, too.”
Thompkins tallied 13 points in the title tilt, despite playing with a torn left ACL that will require postseason surgery.
“I was in a lot of pain,” the soft-spoken Thompkins, when prompted, admitted. “It was sore all week, so I had to push through the pain and go out there and do it for my team.
“I never doubted it,” he said regarding his return from a 3-game hiatus. “I always had faith in myself, and my team kept pushing me, and I just had to work hard.
“This is my second time playing for a D-10 championship,” Thompkins continued. recalling, “I lost the first time (41-38 on an OT buzzer-beater to West Middlesex last year), so ... I wanted it my senior year, my last time playing. So I just went out there and did my best.
“It feels great,” Thompkins admitted.
Echoed Hartman, “Last year we lost on a heartbreaker, so ever since then we had a goal in mind to get back here and actually win it this time. And I wouldn’t want to have done it with any other group of guys. It was a really good win, and it’s great to have the D-10 (trophy) back at Kennedy.”
“You can’t describe it, it’s just amazing! You just have to be here (in the lockerroom) to be able to know what it’s like,” D’Onofrio related. “Last year left a bitter taste in our mouths, especially because it was West Middlesex, our biggest rival. So it just made us more motivated to come back stronger this year. That was the one thing we wanted to do ... ”
One of Mancino’s teammates on KC’s 1st PIAA championship team (1985-86) — Brian Hoover — extended his congratulations amid the post-game celebration.
“I’m happy for Kennedy, because a lot of people put pressure on us, and well deserved. It is a great program,” Mancino mused, admitting, “but we’ve got to get it back to where we were. But people don’t realize,” he added, “how great that program was. You really think about it: In 25 years they went to 10 state finals (winning 6), and that’s unbelievable!
“So whatever player comes here there’s gonna be pressure, and that’s not right.”
“Our coaches always say, just from Kennedy’s past history, that no matter who you play it’s gonna be that team’s Super Bowl, everyone’s going to try to bring their best. ... It’s just beating that ‘Kennedy’ name,” the 6-foot-6 Hartman acknowledged, “So every game you’ve gotta bring your best ’cause you know they’re gonna bring their best and try to beat you. So that’s what we try to do every game.”
When I got hired,” Mancino recalled, “I said ... we’re gonna be excited after every win. Before at Kennedy, everyone looked at the last game, but that’s now how we’re looking at it. We look at every game and get excited after every game.
“We’ve very excited about the District 10 championship, it’s huge for us! I want them to have fun and enjoy it — they deserve it!” Mancino emphasized.
Now, at least for this season, there’s one logical step in the progression:
“State championship. I think we’re on our way there,” a smiling D’Onofrio declared.
Echoed Hartman, “I agree.”
Who: Kennedy Catholic (17-6) vs. Lincoln Park Charter (19-6).
What: Opening round.
When: 7 p.m. today.
Where: Farrell High’s E.J. McCluskey Gymnasium.
Players to Watch: Kennedy Catholic—Jeffrey Thompkins, 6-2 Sr. swing-guard (13.9 ppg.); Mac Hartman, 6-6 Sr. post (13.8); Chris James, 6-0 Jr. combo guard (12.6); Jimmy D’Onofrio, 5-11 Sr. 2-guard (7.3); Gerald Zachar, 5-9 Jr. point guard; Arlen Brewer, 6-0 Sr. swingman (7.3); Sam Crow, 6-1 Jr. forward; Brennan Wassil, 6-4 Jr. forward. Lincoln Park—Maverick Rowan, 6-5 Fr. guard (24 ppg., 74 3-point field goals); Elijah Minnie, 6-9 Jr. post (21.0); Ryan Skovranko, 6-6 Jr. swingman; Jaylin Cottrill, 6-5 Sr. post; Nate Loedding, 6-0 Jr. guard; Antonio Kellum, 6-0 Soph. guard.
Bonus Shots: Led by 4th-year head coach Rick Mancino (62-31), KC captured the District 10 championship — the program’s 1st since ’09 — via a 58-37 conquest of Cochranton. Kennedy had copped 12 consecutive crowns before a 3-year drought. ... James has a team-high 17 double-figure scoring games, followed by Hartman (16) and D’Onofrio and Brewer (6). ... Thompkins is playing with a left-knee ALC tear that cost him 3 games and snapped a 10-game double-digit skein. He has 14. ... After winning the 2012 WPIAL crown, Lincoln Park, coached by Mark Javens, advanced to this season’s semifinals, losing to Clairton (71-70 in OT) after defeating Mapletown (95-37) and Wilkinsburg (99-58). ... The Leopards led the WPIAL, averaging 82 ppg. ... Lincoln Park produced a perfect 10-0 record en route to the regular-season Section 1-A title. ... Rowan is the son of former Beaver Falls High and Syracuse University cager Ron Rowan. ... On Jan. 23, Lincoln Park posted a 70-62 win over Kennedy Catholic in Midland, led by the scoring Rowan (21), Minnie (17), Skovranko and Cottrill (10 apiece). KC came back from a 24-13 first-quarter deficit and trailed by 9 at intermission before playing to a 34-all 2nd-half standoff. Hartman (19), Thompkins (13) and James (11) led KC’s scoring. Since that loss, the Golden Eagles have eased to 8 wins in their last 10 outings, losing only to Youngstown’s Ursuline (OHSAA Division III Howland Sectional finalist) and Cardinal Mooney. Lincoln Park also has won 8 of its last 10. The Leopards’ 6 losses occurred by an aggregate 33 points. ... Lincoln Park, the past 2 seasons, eliminated West Middesex, first in the 2011 opening round, then in last year’s Final Four on Kellum’s buzzer-beating layin following a steal of an inbounds pass. ... The game will be broadcast on NewsTalk 790 (WPIC AM), with Mark Slezak and Bob Greenburg calling the action, beginning with the pre-game show at 6:05 p.m. Games also streamed at www.790wpic.com and www.sportsradio967.com.
Who: West Middlesex (22-3) vs. Jeannette (18-5).
What: Opening round.
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Slippery Rock University’s Morrow Field House.
Players to Watch: West Middlesex—Matt Dogan, 6-foot-6 Sr. combo guard (26.2 ppg.); Trey Staunch, 6-3 Soph. post (16.6); Jeremy Jancso, 6-5 Sr. forward (12.2); Jerrod Palmer, 5-11 Sr. 2-guard (8.2); Roman Klaric, 5-11 Sr. point guard; Christian Porterfield, 5-11 Jr. swingman (5.0); Mike Ginther, 6-6 Sr. post. Jeannette—Duke Brown, 6-3 Sr. guard; Julian Batts 5-11 Soph. point guard; Seth Miller, 6-5 Sr. post; Jordan Edmunds, 5-10 Sr. guard; Miles Sunder, 6-4 Jr. forward.
Bonus Shots: Led by 14th-year mentor Chad Mild (233-130, 64.1 percent) — the program’s all-time winningest mentor — West Middlesex is ranked in the state’s top 5 (Harrisburg Patriot-News), and the Big Reds have roared to 18 straight successes (12 en route to an undefeated Region 2-AA crown). During that skein West Middlesex reached the century mark twice and narrowly missed on 4 other occasions. ... Dogan, Mercer County’s career scoring leader (2,154), has posted double digits all but once this season. He is coming off a 36-point performance in the Big Reds’ 71-65, 5-OT win over Lakeview in the District 10 title tilt. ... Staunch has scored in double figures in every game, joined by Jancso (16). ... The free-throw line has been Dogan’s domain, as he has converted 184 of 256 attempts (71.8 percent). Staunch (125 of 165, 75.7) also has been a marksman for Middlesex from the sin stripe. They were a combined 24 for 28 against Lakeview. Jancso (107-142, 75.3) also has enjoyed success from the line. Collectively, according to information furnished by AD Mike Williams, the Big Reds have recorded 479 makes in 686 attempts (69.8 percent). ... The Big Reds won the 2012 D-10 Class A championship en route to 22 wins and a PIAA Final Four berth. ... The Blue Jays of head coach Adrian Batts battered Aliquippa (71-44) in the WPIAL postseason tournament’s opening round led by Batts (22), Edmunds (18), Miller (12) and Sunder (10). But Jeannette was jolted by Apollo-Ridge (53-49), allowing 24-6 first-quarter and 31-23 halftime leads to dissipate into defeat. Reportedly, it was the Ridge’s 1st time in the WPIAL quarterfinals since 1991; conversely, Jeannette had been a quarterfinalist on 5 occasions since ’05. ... Jeannette (10-2) jetted to the WPIAL Section 3-AA runner-up berth behind Greensburg Central Catholic (12-0). ... The game will be broadcast on SportsRadio 96.7 (WLLF FM), with Mark Slezak and Bob Greenburg calling the action and streamed at www.790wpic.com and www.sportsradio967.com.
Who: Lakeview (21-4) vs. Quaker Valley (20-5).
What: Opening round.
When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
Where: Slippery Rock University’s Morrow Field House.
Players to Watch: Lakeview—Dalton Boggs, 6-1 Sr. combo guard (15.8 ppg.); Casey Greggs, 6-6 Sr. swingman (14.5); Coty “Big Country” Gander, 6-2 Sr. post (8.9); Brandon Rice, 6-2 Jr. forward (8.2); Zach VanDusen, 6-0 Jr. 2-guard; Andrew Fowler, 6-3 Sr. guard; Austin Rice, 5-9 Fr. guard. Quaker Valley—Burke Moser, 6-3 Sr. swingman (15.3 ppg.); Qadir Taylor, 6-0 Jr. guard; Nelson Westwood, 6-2 Sr. guard; Rocco Brown, 6-4 Sr. post; John Benard, 6-3 Jr. post.
Bonus Shots: Lakeview, led by 13th-year head coach Gary Burke (203 career wins), dropped the District 10 title tilt to West Middlesex, (71-65 in 5 OTs). ... This is the Sailors’ 2nd 20-win season under Burke, and a single-season high with him serving as Sailors’ skipper. He has led Lakeview to 8 winning seasons in the last 9, and only 3 losing seasons during his tenure. ... Boggs (22), Greggs (17), Gander (13) and Rice (10) have supplied the Sailors with consistent double-digit scoring. Both Boggs and Greggs surpassed the career 1,000-point plateau this season, a 1st in Sailors’ cage annals, according to Burke. James Charlton (1,259) is Lakeview’s career scoring leader. ... Lakeview has lost only 3 of its last 18 games — all to Region 2-AA rival West Middlesex. The Sailors have scored as many 70 or more points only 3 times this season, but have yielded 50-plus only twice. ... Sixth-seeded Quaker Valley (9-3) — after ending as WPIAL Section 6-AA regular-season runner-up to Sto-Rox (10-2) — lost in the postseason tournament semifinals to Burrell (43-32, outscored 13-2 in OT) after defeating Riverside (53-48) and Seton-LaSalle (62-61). ... The Quakers of coach Mike Mastroianni have won 15 of their last 17 tilts. ... The game will be broadcast on SportsRadio 96.7 (WLLF FM), with Mark Slezak and Bob Greenburg calling the action, beginning with a 5:30 p.m. pre-game show, and streamed at www.790wpic.com and www.sportsradio967.com. — By Ed Farrell, Herald assistant sports editor.