After beating the best Erie, Warren and Crawford counties could offer last week, Mercer County’s contingent now answers to no one other than itself.
This weekend’s District 10 tournament includes a quartet of head-to-head semifinal showdowns in Class A and AA — meaning half the area aggregation’s season will be shortcircuited by familiar foes.
Tonight’s single-A tilts include top-seeded West Middlesex meeting Farrell and defending D-10 titlist Sharpsville slated to face Lakeview. Saturday’s AA card includes Grove City challenging defending champion Hickory, while Wilmington will take on Greenville.
The AA doubleheader at Slippery Rock University has Hickory and Grove City as the 1 p.m. matinee (previewed in Thursday’s Herald), with Wilmington and Greenville squaring off in the 7 p.m. nightcap.
Where do coaches come out on meeting the same team twice in the same season?
“It’s been 27 years (coaching) for me, and I’ve been on both sides of the fence,” related Hickory head coach Bill Brest. “I’ve won both games, lost both games, split them. I don’t know what the answer is. ... ”
“If you lose (the first meeting) you do a lot more gambling (in the rematch),” said 17th-season Sharpsville skipper Paul Piccirilli. “If you’re the winning team the first time around I don’t think you gamble as much; you do what you’ve been doing all year.”
“Whether you meet (Sharpsville) twice or three times, they’re a good football team, so I don’t think it means whole lot,” Lakeview head coach Dan York offered.
So would that give the edge to West Middlesex, Sharpsville, Hickory and Wilmington, who won the regular-season meetings? Or will Farrell, Lakeview, Grove City and Greenville gain the edge as underdogs?
“We’re definitely tickled to be the underdog,” said Jarrett Samuels, Farrell Steelers’ skipper. “But we definitely have the same chance (the Big Reds) have to advance.”
“To be on that side with this team, I like our position. When you’re the favorite, there’s a lot of pressure. We’ve experienced both sides, but I relish this,” Samuels admitted.
“West Middlesex won our (region), they were favored most of the year. Even the coaches told the kids that,” Piccirilli recalled. “We’re actually going in as the underdog, and I kind’ve like that role right now. We’ve got nothing to lose, and we’re playing loose. It’s a nice feeling.”
“I can remember back in (nineteen) ninety-one when we had Andy Blatt,” Greenville Trojans’ taskmaster Brian Herrick recalled. “We put it on Hickory pretty good in the regular season (32-7), then it got down to the District 10 championship game and we lost by a point (21-20). Hickory really made some adjustments that hurt us,” Herrick continued, “and we didn’t adjust at all because we beat them so bad the first time. So you just don’t know.”
While the downside is losing a quartet of teams this weekend, obviously it guarantees Mercer County again will have the opportunity to lend to its legacy to 2-decade domination of District 10.
With the addition of defending AAA titlist Grove City to AA, the Eagles engaged in a fierce regular-season Region 3-AA rivalry with Wilmington and Hickory.
“People don’t realize,” Grove City head coach Jeff Bell noted, “but in our region — A, double-A and with Slippery Rock (AAA) — every week you better have a solid game plan and have your kids coached up, or you’re gonna get beat. You better be ready and you better have a heckava game plan.
“If you’re playing anybody in Mercer County, you better be ready,” Bell continued. “Week in and week out, with the coaches and the competition, you better be ready to go. There are great staffs and they get their kids ready. There are very few easy games.”
Since 1994, Wilmington has advanced to the District 10 championship game 13 times, winning 10. As Greyhounds’ headmaster Terry Verrelli said,
“ ... As long as we’ve movin’ on. ... it’s starting to become something that does happen every year, and there’s nothing wrong with that — that’s great. The kids behind (their predecessors) see what they have done and when their turn comes, they’re ready to play.”
“It’s exciting!” Brest said. “It’s a great time of the year to be coaching football, being with your staff, being with your players. It’s another week, another opportunity, and we don’t take it for granted.
“We take it one week at a time, and we’re blessed to have another opportunity. We’ll do the best we can to be successful on Saturday,” Brest concluded.
Farrell (6-4) vs. West Middlesex (9-2), 7 p.m.
Wilmington High Greyhounds Stadium
In Week 3, Middlesex manhandled Farrell (38-6), and the Big Reds’ ringing victory bell continues to reverberate in the Steelers’ ears.
The Big Reds are enjoying the program’s best season since the 15-win ’06 squad advanced to the PIAA championship game. That was the Big Reds’ last success against the Steelers until this past September as Luke Patten (6 carries, 141 yards rushing, 2 TDs; 52-yard TD reception) paced the Big Reds.
However last week Farrell forged its best performance of the season against Mercyhurst Prep. And Middlesex mentor Jason McElhaney knows the talent level from last week (Iroquois) to this week will be vastly different. Following his team’s quarterfinal-round rout, McElhaney mused,
“(Farrell’s) a good football team, and everybody at this time of year is — it shows the strength of our region (1-A) ... ”
Samuels is seeking his 50th win as well as the program’s 4th district crown in 5 years under his direction. Overall, Farrell has forged 6 D-10 titles, and an equal number of WPIAL championships.
“We’re a work in progress, but we’re getting really close,” Samuels said. “It’s amazing where we’re at!
“ ... For this to be a ‘down’ year, we’ve done a pretty good job,” Samuelsa insisted. “It’s been a lot of ups and downs, a roller-coaster, but the kids have been resilient. There’s been a lot of growing pains, but we’ve been able to coach these guys up, and it’s been amazing progress they’ve been making progress each and every practice.
“This reminds me of our second year (’08). We entered (the D-10 tourney) as the third seed and weren’t even ranked in the state — no one even looked at us,” Samuels recalled. “But we got better each and every week. We saw that progression.”
Regarding the Big Reds, Samuels said, “Coming into this game, West Middlesex is the favorite; they’ve been the pick since training camp. ... I knew they (have) a championship pedigree from the basketball team with some of the same kids. We respect their program.
“They are a great football team.
“We’re going to focus on our mistakes (10 penalties, 3 fumbles, a turnover) ... analyze that first game. We gave them 20 points on turnovers, mismanagement of the ball,” Samuels assessed.
“Coming into this game we’re going to pull out all the stops. We’re not holding anything back — onside-kicks, trick plays.
“We have one goal, and that’s to advance to the championship game. We’re playing with no pressure, while (the Big Reds) are a senior-dominated team,” Samuels said. “We’re looking for a good team effort, and that’s what it’s gonna take, but we’re gonna play loose.
“Even though we’ve been up and down, right now we’re playing at a high level. We want to continue and advance to the championship game. This is familiar territory,” Samuels said, concluding, “I’ve told the kids I’m used to being out on the field and practicing on Thanksgiving morning. That’s a tradition we have here at Farrell.”
The game will be broadcast on NewsTalk 790 (WPIC AM), with Mark Slezak and Bob Greenburg calling the action.
Lakeview (7-4) vs. Sharpsville (9-1), 7 p.m.,
Grove City High Forker Field
Sharpsville shut out the Sailors (42-0) in Week 8).
Piccirilli pronounced his club healthy, then regarding the rematch, said, “With Lakeview, I think they’re gonna mix it up a little bit more, gamble a little bit more; with us, we’re gonna be true to the vest, what worked the first time.”
The revenge factor is more of a media-driven concept, Piccirilli said, noting, “You’re playing just another game; it doesn’t matter what happened at the beginning of the year.”
Last year Sharpsville advanced further than any county club — to the state’s Final four. But placing pressure on the Blue Devils, Piccirilli said, is not part of the game plan.
“Some years,” Piccirilli mused, “five-and-five is a great record. We haven’t had too many of those lately. Our kids here at Sharpsville play hard and do whatever we ask, which makes it so much fun coaching here.”
Playing — and winning — in November never gets old.
“No, never. That’s what we coach for,” Piccirilli said. “Our primary goal is to make the playoffs, play for District 10, then get the chance to get in the state tournament. That’s what we shoot for every year.
“We want to be practicing on Thanksgiving day.
Last week Lakeview laid out top-seeded Region 2-A entry Eisenhower (36-6), though Sailors’ skipper York said it was not his club’s best outing this season.
“(Eisenhower) had played two of the teams we played (Mercer, Conneaut Area), and those are two teams we beat, so we had a pretty good feeling going in. We played pretty well, and (Zach) Bigley took care of the offense (156 yards rushing, including 19-, 72- and 64-yard scoring sprints, plus 81 yards passing including a TD toss).
“If I had to go back and (choose Lakeview’s best game), I’d say Conneaut,” York continued, though he admitted his Sailors’ success tonight will hinge on exceeding that conquest of Conneaut.
“Undoubtedly,” York affirmed. “We’ve gotta generate some offense, more than that first game (140 total yards, 2 turnovers), and we’ve got to slow (the Blue Devils) down somehow.
“I’ve traded (game) tapes with Coach Piccirilli twice, and he said these kids run (Sharpsville’s) system the whole way, from Midgets clear through high school. That’s a definite advantage for them. Their kids know the terminology, which is definitely an advantage.
“Their offensive line is better than West Middlesex’s offensive line,” York opined. “People ask me to compare the two. I think West Middlesex has better athletes than Sharpsville. Sharpsville has good athletes, but West Middlesex definitely has better speed. But Sharpsville’s offensive scheme and blocking patterns — the blocking rules — that they do for that wing-T can be complicated.
“But when you start out in the sixth- or seventh-grade, by the time you’re a sophomore you’ve already run it three, four years.”
Leading Lakeview is prolific Blake Reddick, who has rushed for 3,103 yards and 27 touchdowns the past 2 seasons, averaging 6.5 yards/carry.
“When we start out a lot of (opposing) teams think we’re a ‘one-trick pony’ with Blake,” York related. “but Bigley’s the one who came through (against Eisenhower). We he runs the option, when he’s reading well, throwing well, that’s what it’s gonna take to do better this game (aginast Sharpsville). Zach has to have big game.”
The game will be broadcast on ESPN 96.7 (WLLF FM), with Ryan Briggs and Chris Burtch calling the action.
(at Slippery Rock University’s Mihalik-Thompson Stadium)
Greenville (6-5) vs. Wilmington (8-2)
These programs previously battled for the D-10 AA title, with Wilmington winning both (’00, ’01).
The Greyhounds grounded Greenville in Week 9 (26-0), but Greenville garnered its initial playoff win in 6 seasons with last week’s conquest of Corry. The win snapped Greenville’s 5-year opening-round drought.
“It was a nice win and exciting the way it all went down,” Herrick related. “We were getting buried early (14-0), made a ton of turnovers. But the way we fought back in the second half was nice.”
The humble Herrick said the gorilla on Greenville’s back was good “I think moreso for the kids. They hear the same things I do — ‘You can get there (playoffs), but what do you do when you get there?’
“Right away (beginning of the season) our kids read some publications from up north, and one had us seventh (in the region) and one had us eighth. So the kids have known all year we weren’t the number one pick in the (region). We’ve been the underdogs a lot. But with these kids, it doesn’t seem to bother them.”
Wilmington walloped Fairview in its tourney lidlifter, so last week’s conquest of Corry by the Trojans was little consolation for this week’s reality.
“Wilmington, Grove City or Hickory, I’m not sure I’d choose any of those three (for a semifinals opponent),” Herrick admitted. “But, the more you win, the bigger the opponent the next week. Obviously, (the Hounds) are very good.
“We play Wilmington every year, so you know exactly what they’re gonna do,” Herrick continued. “The issue is trying to defense (Wilmington’s wing-T), trying to come up with a different plan.
“Obviously, the first time it didn’t work real well.
“We know we will not play against a better-coached team,” Herrick said regarding Verrelli, who can establish the distric’s career coaching wins record with No. 271. “They’ll be ready for everything we do. The key for us is playing physical football right out of the gate, move the football. The first time our defense played pretty well, but our offense sputtered; when we got down (in the Red Zone) we didn’t finish drives.”
Though playing the Greyhounds, the Trojans are the “dogs,” though they relish that role.
“It is what it is until you prove yourself, so it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks,” Herrick reasoned. “We got off to a bad start (losing the 1st 2 games), so we told the kids, ‘If you want to get better, start practicing harder, get better every week, and the kids bought into it. They’ve come to work every day.
“Their resiliency has been fun to watch. In the past, we’ve had some teams that, if they got down, you could just mail it in,” Herrick continued. “Against Wilmington the first time, we got down, but these kids played hard the whole game.
“Actually, it’s fun to be in this position, and the kids are really excited,” Herrick concluded. “Basically, going in, nobody’s picking us to win, so you go in and give it all you’ve got and see what happens.
“On any given day, anything can happen.”
The game will be broadcast on ESPN 96.7 (WLLF FM), with Ryan Briggs and Chris Burtch calling the action, and also on WGRP (940 AM).
Grove City (9-1) vs. Hickory (9-1)
The game will be simulcast on NewsTalk 790 (WPIC AM) and ESPN 96.7 (WLLF FM), with Mark Slezak and Bob Greenburg calling the action.
Herald sports writer Rob Malsom contributed research for this preview.
After beating the best Erie, Warren and Crawford counties could offer last week, Mercer County’s contingent now answers to no one other than itself.
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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