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.
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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