We, here in Mercer County, have grown complacent.
Last weekend’s District 10 Class A quarterfinals sweep showed the south’s strength. The downside, though, is that this week’s semifinals signal the season’s end for a pair of county contingents.
Friday night at Hickory High’s Hornet Stadium, Sharpsville and West Middlesex meet for a 3rd consecutive postseason — though not in the title tilt as during the past 2 years when the Blue Devils delivered back-to-back championships.
“I know we came in fourth (in Region 1) and they came in third, so it’s ironic. But that’s just how the cards fell,” explained Sharpsville skipper Paul Piccirilli. “But this is now probably our biggest rival over the last 10 years. It used to be Kennedy (Catholic), but West Middlesex has taken over. And we know each other so well.”
“Knowing the competition we have here, everybody in Mercer County has a good football program, every staff is top-notch,” mused Middlesex mentor Ed Roberson. “We sharpen each other down here, and the teams that do make the postseason are battle-tested from who they played all year.
“So if you’re healthy enough, chances are that somebody from our region is going to win the district,” Roberson related, emphasizing, “but it’s not easy. Week to week, there are no easy games; you have to be ready to play every week, especially in the playoffs. And every week, going forward, is more difficult, more stressful.
This is about the Blue Devils’ defense — literally and figuratively.
Sharpsville (7-4) is seeking the second D-10 3-peat in program annals. To advance to this juncture it’s been about the Blue Devils denying opposing offenses. Sharpsville has surrendered only 9.9 points and 178.9 yards per game.
“Personally, I knew going in we had the talent to win again; the only point was trying to mold 11 new guys into a team,” explained Piccirilli, who admitted, “Unfortunately it took longer offensively. But defensively, we’re as good as we’ve ever been on that side of the ball. And special teams kept us up, too.”
In week 6 the Big Reds roared to a 12-0 2nd-stanza lead on Eric Lucich’s 64-yard scoring sprint and Trey Staunch’s 1-yard plunge. But the Blue Devils did damage by scoring the game’s final 20 points, including two Tyler Wansack TD runs. Ben BuCher’s 60-yard punt return kick-started the comeback.
Wansack reinjured his ankle in the week leading up to Sharpsville’s 31-7 elimination of Eisenhower, and will not be available, Piccirilli said.
Related Roberson, “We’ve been bitten by the injury bug. ... We’re not 100-percent healthy, but we’re healthier this week than we were last week (in a 46-32 win over Cochranton).”
Of note in the earlier Sharpsville-Middlesex meeting: The Big Reds recorded a 272-168 edge in total yards, led by Lucich’s 83 yards rushing and Staunch’s 14-for-21, 154-yard passing performance. However Middlesex (7-4) made 3 miscues.
“Staunch is definitely the key,” Piccirilli said. “He’s a big kid, sees the field pretty well. And Lucich runs well, (Chandler) Tyillian, too. They have a lot of good athletes. But the key for us defensively is to mix it up — when we’re comin’ (on the blitz) and when we’re not comin’. And with our offense doing better, that will be a key to controlling the ball and not giving (Staunch) as many chances.
“Turnovers will be a key in deciding the game,” Piccirilli pronounced.
Echoed Roberson, “The team that wins will be the one that defenses the run and runs the ball the best.”
Ironically, a loss at Lakeview (19-13 in week 8) served as Sharpsville’s tipping point, Piccirilli said.
“We were down 19-13 with a couple minutes to go and had the ball on about the 40 with a chance to win the game,” he recalled. “But after that game we (Sharpsville coaches) saw a different team from that point on, one that feels they can win any game.
“With our offense (20.7 ppg., 245.7 ypg.) finally catching up in full gear, we feel we have as good a chance as any other team out there,” Piccirilli added, noting frosh Luke Henwood will be Sharpsville’s starting signal-caller, in place of junior Nick Henwood.
On a nightly norm the Big Reds have recorded a 23.6 to 19.4 scoring margin and 305 to 242.3 edge in total yards.
“Coach ‘Pic’ and his staff are very creative in the things they do, so I have to make sure my kids are ready for what they see Friday night,” Roberson said. “We have to stop their running attack. If we limit their ability to run, we put ourselves in better position defensively to prevail. Offensively, we have to continue to have the running success that we’ve had. Lucich has been on a roll, and Tyillian, as well.
“They’ve sort’ve gotten away from some of the basic things they do,” Roberson said in assessing Sharpsville. “They’ve made some adjustments, and we have to match those adjustments and try to anticipate what they’re going to do.”
With Roberson now Middlesex’s mentor, Piccirilli was posed with the question: Does that present his Devils with a different dynamic, or is Sharpsville attempting to defeat a program already in place?
“Ed’s been there. He was their defensive coordinator. And, basically, they run the same offense, with a few different players,” Piccirilli said.
“In some ways, yes. ... But game planning-wise, not really,” Roberson responded to the question. “I’m still the defensive coordinator, so we have the same, basic approach to games that we’ve had in the past. And working with (former head coach Jason McElhaney, now Hickory’s offensive coordinator), he and I were on the same page.
“Having the ‘weight’ on my shoulders, being responsible for the program, that’s different,” Roberson related, “but in terms of how I approach the game, that hasn’t changed that much.”
It’s been said that familiarity breeds contempt, but not so with this Shenango Valley rivalry.
“I enjoy playing them. It’s a good, clean rivalry, not with players yakking it up back and forth,” Piccirilli noted. “It’s good for the fans, and the other semifinal (Lakeview-Mercer) will be a heckuva game, too.”
“When you play Sharpsville you’ve gotta prepare for them,” Roberson reflected. “You know what’s gonna happen, but there are all kinds of things they can do. Their kids are tough and scrappy and come very well prepared. The challenge,” Roberson said, “is to sort of match Coach ‘Pic’ and his staff. Knowing that they’re one of the better staffs around, you’d better bring your ‘A-game,’ and even if you bring your ‘A-game’ it’s not gonna be easy.”
“The toughest thing is our bracket itself,” Piccirilli continued. “Farrell could’ve easily been where we are. That’s a nice team, but they just fell apart down the stretch due to certain circumstances.
“And our (region) will be really unbelievable next year with Wilmington and possibly Greenville and Rey-nolds,” he noted. “Who knows what this is coming to? We’ll just take it one day at a time like everybody else, and we’ll take every opportunity to win and see where it goes.”
“It’s been an exciting year. We’ve always had these hopes and expectations, but reality is hitting a little bit ... it’s all beginning to sink in,” Roberson related. “My coaching staff, I’m really proud of them. They’ve put in a lot of work, worked very hard, seven days a week, since August. And the kids, I can’t say enough about them. They’re talented and they work hard and have done everything we’ve asked them to do.
“I’m enjoying the ride,” Roberson admitted, adding, “I hope it lasts another couple weeks. ... We’re excited and focused. Our kids are excited. They seem to be on a mission.”
The game will be broadcast on WPIC (790 AM) with Ryan Briggs and Chris Burtch on mike.
We, here in Mercer County, have grown complacent.
Roundup: Rockets, Hornets, Blue Devils win
ä Slippery Rock 11, Grove City 3 — At Memorial Park in Grove City, Travis Lauster singled and tripled and reached base 4 times as the defending District 10 Class AAA champion Slippery Rock Rockets beat the Eagles.
Joe Barnhart went the distance for Slippery Rock. He gave up a dozen hits in earning the win. At the dish for Slippery Rock, Jackson Kerchis, Butler and Matt Badger all had 2 hits and Arrenzo doubled.
Roundup: Wilmington track teams sweep WM
ä Wilmington 98, West Middlesex 51 — At West Middlesex, the visiting Greyhounds gave the Big Reds their first home, dual-meet loss in approximately 4 seasons according to Middlesex mentor Ed Pikna.
Cooper (400, 800, distance- and mile-relay legs), jumper Perrine and sprinter Scott (100, 200) gave the Greyhounds the giddy-up by winning multiple events.
HIGH SCHOOL SPRING SPORTS ROUNDUP
Baseball, softball and tennis teams were in action Monday as the nice weather allowed for high school spring sports action that has been limited so far by rain, snow and windy conditions.
Players relent, agree to play for reinstated football coach
Minnesota State University-Mankato's football team has ended its boycott of reinstated head coach Todd Hoffner, who successfully fought child pornography charges and other misconduct accusations that removed him from the job for 20 months.
Hickory track coaches near finish line
While the Shenango Valley lionizes legendary gridiron greats and hardwood heroes, the sport of track & field at Hickory High has resonated its relevance throughout District 10 and commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
For the better part of the last 3 decades that was due, to a great extent, to the efforts of Barb Dzuricsko and Mark Slezak.
More than 200 dual-meet victories combined between the girls’ and boys’ programs, 9 district championships (7 girls, 2 boys), 2 statewide runners-up berths and another pair of 3rd-place finishes, culminating in the Lady Hornets’ 2012 PIAA Class AA championship.
Their collective resumé would be envied by any coach, regardless of sport. Which makes this recent revelation regrettable: Dzuricsko and Slezak simultaneously will step down at this season’s conclusion.
SPORTVIEW: Cavaliers are example of how an owner impacts a team
WHEN LEBRON James vacated Cleveland for South Beach a few years ago, angry Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert declared that the Cavaliers would win an NBA championship before James and the Miami Heat.
How’s that working out, Dan?
Miami is seeking a third straight title this postseason while the Cavaliers are headed for the golf courses. Pretty sad.
Roundup: Trojans, Hounds win team titles at WM Invitational
Wilmington High girls and Greenville boys dominated the annual Big Red Track & Field Invitational Thursday afternoon in West Middlesex.
A half-dozen girls’ and 7 boys’ teams competed.
Wilmington overwhelmed the female field, as the Lady Greyhounds garnered almost twice as many points as runner-up Lakeview (236-5 to 133.5).
Roundup: WM diamondmen edge Reynolds, 6-4
ä West Middlesex 6, Reynolds 4 — At Transfer, the Big Reds snapped a 4-all tie by plating a run in the 4th inning and another in the 7th in a 2-run win over the Raiders.
Mark Colella earned the mound win in a relief appearance for WM. No pitching stats were submitted.
Roundup: Hickory, Wilmington softball teams win
Paced by Chelsea Marriott’s muscle, Hickory High hammered 4 home runs Saturday afternoon en route to a 19-1 rout of Sharon.
At Wengler, Marriott mauled 2- and 3-run round-trippers to right-center and straightaway center field, respectively. Her Lady Hornets’ teammates Hannah Gallagher and Morgan McBride mustered 3-run bombs, also.
Fired coach in Mankato unjustly accused of visiting porn sites
Minnesota State University-Mankato officials wrongly accused former football coach Todd Hoffner of viewing pornography sites on his work computer before firing him last May, a state arbitrator has disclosed.
Roundup: Hickory track coaches to step down following season
Hickory High track & field co-head coaches Barb Dzuricsko and Mark Slezak announced they will step down at the season’s conclusion.
Dzuricsko and Slezak, who led the Lady Hornets to the 2012 PIAA Class AA crown, jointly made the announcement via e-mail late Wednesday.
Roundup: Devil diamondmen roll past Sharon
An old-school baseball bromide states that, early in any season, pitching is always ahead of hitting. However Sharpsville shunned that axiom Wednesday afternoon.
The Blue Devils banged 15 hits, and Sharpsville short-circuited Sharon, 16-4, in 5 innings.
Roundup: Hounds, Hornets notch track sweeps
ä Wilmington 116, Reynolds 44 — At New Wilmington, the host Lady Hounds were led by Rikki Brumbaugh (4x8, 4x4 relay legs, 400- and 800-meter runs); Hannah Drake (long, triple jumps, 4x4 relay); Allison Baldwin (4x8 and 4x4 relay legs); Lexi Brumbaugh (1600-, 3200-meter runs, distance-relay leg), and Tessa Sikora (high jump, 200-meter dash, sprint-relay anchor).
SPORTVIEW: Pirates, Indians fans looking for big things this year
LIFE IS GOOD if you are a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates or Cleveland Indians. At least for now!
Heading into Saturday, both teams were 3-1 and looking pretty sharp. Since both made the playoffs last year, there are high expectations for both clubs. But in baseball, every year is a new season and there are no guarantees.
Still, it’s always nice when your favorite teams get off to a good start. In too many seasons, Pittsburgh and Cleveland fans were only talking about the NFL draft because hopes were bleak for their baseball teams.
Hickory's Arbanas 1st team All-State; KC's Hood 3rd team
ALTOONA, Pa. (AP) — Teams from the WPIAL won three of the four PIAA girls basketball championships this year, and southwestern Pennsylvania is turning out to be just as dominant when it comes to postseason honors.
Pittsburgh-area programs produced seven of the eight major award winners on this season’s Sports Writers Pennsylvania High School Girls Basketball All-State Team, including all four players of the year.
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