Winning 400 games was almost easy compared with closing out No. 401 for Hickory High head coach Nick Cannone.
Fortunately, he had a heavenly helping hand from his father, “Grassy.”
“I carry his (prayer) card all the time, and I miss him dearly. I know he would’ve enjoyed this. Oh, gosh!” gushed Cannone regarding his deceased dad, Nick.
Marcus Sonoga’s leaner in the lane, followed by Khalil Hopson’s agonizingly, tantalizingly miss at the buzzer, enabled Hickory to hurdle host Sharon, 50-49, Thursday night.
“One step closer to the region (5-AAA) championship, which was our goal,” Cannone commenced. “Sharon’s very good, and we were fortunate. It’s been like that three or four games this year. But I think that shows a little character from our kids.”
Sharon surged back from a 43-32 deficit entering the final frame.
Carnell Hawkins hit a pair of free throws with 40.9 ticks to play as the Tigers took their 1st lead since the 3:07 segment of the 1st quarter — 49-48.
Cannone called a timeout with 38.5 ticks to play, and Sonoga sank a floater, reprising his game-winner during last year’s District 10 opening-round playoff triple against Central Tech. It was only his 2nd field goal of the night.
“ ... I just saw an opening,” a smiling Sonoga said.
“They talk about (Matt) Votino, and they talk about my son (Anthony), and (Vinnie) Mastrian’s been coming on strong, But the unsung heroes are (Donté) Green and Sonoga — they do all the dirty work, the rebounding, the defense,” Coach Cannone commended. “He’s a veteran and a senior.
“We set up an (inbounds) play to try to hit a ‘home-run’ pass, but (the Tigers) extended the pressure,” Cannone explained. “They didn’t bite on Mastrian coming up, (Darrell) Stovall was there. So we got it across to Vinnie, then (Sonoga) saw the lane ... he saw an opening, and he took it, what, a six-footer?”
On Sharon’s ensuing possession the Hornets packed it in the lane in an attempt to deny a drive by Hopson. Nonetheless, the quicksilver Sharon senior split a pair of defenders and got the ball to the basket.
“How many times did that ball bounce?” Cannone rhetorically asked.
“To lay it all out on the line like that, then don’t get one bounce at the end, I don’t know if it could hurt any more,” admitted 1st-year Sharon skipper Jason Rankin. “We got the shot we wanted. I thought he might’ve gone a couple seconds earlier ... but we practice that all the time, and we got a good shot.
“It just didn’t bounce in,” continued Rankin, replaying the final shot in his mind. “I thought the first bounce was in, the second bounce, the same thing. It just seemed like a little bit of wind blew it to one side, then it went off the rim.”
Hopson had a game-high 17 points for surging Sharon (8-5 Region 5-AAA, 10-8) overall, which has won 6 of its last 8 as it bids for a D-10 tournament berth. Also, Stovall snagged a game-high 7 caroms and scored 11 points, while D’Amond Crawford contributed 9 points and 6 caroms.
Led by Hopson’s 4-for-4 marksmanship, Sharon shot 10 for 12 from the line during the 4th frame. However as Rankin related,
“We dug our own hole (after leading 12-4 midway through the 1st quarter). We stopped moving the ball, and some guys for them made shots that we didn’t expect, to be honest with you. When a kid doesn’t score one game, then hits (three) three’s the next (Mastrian), you’ve gotta give them credit.
“They played well enough to actually create and force the tempo, and we played at their pace,” Rankin admitted. “We’re down so many guys, we can’t play as fast as we want to. But I give the kids credit, a lot of resolve.
“When we took the lead, we needed one stop, and then a kid who hasn’t scored all year for them (Sonoga) hits a shot, so you’ve gotta give them credit,” summarized Rankin, regarding Hickory. “You know, if Votino or Cannone beats you, then you know that’s exactly how you’re gonna lose. But when a kid that’s basically a screener and a passer makes the shot, that kind’ve hurts even more.”
Despite being double-teamed at the outset, Votino vaulted to a team-high 15 points and distributed 7 assists for Hickory (12-1, 16-3), which has won 13 of its last 14. Anthony Cannone contributed 10 and Vinnie Mastrian mustered 11, tossing in a trio of treys during the 3rd period, when the Stingers extended a 27-21 margin at intermission to 11 through 3 quarters.
“You’ve always gotta be ready. You never know when your shot’s gonna come, so you’ve gotta be ready, and I was fortunate enough to knock ’em down,” Mastrian said. “You see one go in, then you think they’re all gonna go in after that, and you just gotta keep shooting, and eventually they’ll go in.”
Hickory hit only 18 of 44 floor shots (41 percent), and Green, Mastrian and Sonoga evenly divided 18 of the Hornets’ 27 rebounds. Votino’s 8-for-10 accuracy was the extent of the Stingers’ charity stripe shooting.
Both teams turned over the ball 11 times. Four of Hickory’s occurred during the 4th frame, the last of which set up Hawkins’ heroics.
“(Eleven)-point lead. Last time we played Sharon at home, they turned us over and we made some bad decisions in the fourth quarter, and it was the same thing again,” Coach Cannone confided. “Their pressure bothered us to get into (sets), and it was the first time I saw some of my guys, maybe not wanting the ball, or unsure. That pressure does that. I feel good when the ball’s in ‘Vo’s’ or Anthony’s hands, but (the Tigers) knew that also and they put tremendous pressure on both those guys.”
In the regular-season’s waning weeks, Cannone & Co. can use all the help they can get to close out a region crown.
“I counted three or four bounces (on Hopson’s final shot). I thought after the second bounce, I thought it was goin’ down. So, thank you, dad. I know he was looking out for us,” Cannone concluded.
HICKORY 8 19 16 7 50
SHARON 14 7 11 17 49
HICKORY — Votino 3-8-10-15, Cannone 5-0-0-10, Green 2-0-0-4, V.Mastrian 4-0-0-11, Sonoga 2-0-0-5, Nardone 0-0-0-0, N.Mastrian 2-0-0-5, Pryts 0-0-0-0. 3-pt. goals: V.Mastrian 3, Votino 1, Sonoga 1, N.Mastrian 1. Totals: 18-8-10-50.
SHARON — Hopson 5-6-8-17, Hawkins 2-2-2-6, Stovall 4-3-6-11, Crawford 4-1-2-9, Henry 1-2-2-4, Porterfield 1-0-0-2, Jennings 0-0-0-0, Robinson 0-0-0-0. 3-pt. goal: Hopson 1. Totals: 17-14-20-49.
JV — Hickory, 59-50. Nick Tantuo 19, Nate Mastrian 16 points for HIckory; Aubray Jennings 17, Jevonte Robinson 11 for Sharon.
Winning 400 games was almost easy compared with closing out No. 401 for Hickory High head coach Nick Cannone.
Hickory falls to Lions in PIAA Class AA western region final
SLIPPERY ROCK — Brett Brumbaugh brought Bill Brest back to reality.
Brest seemed, Saturday afternoon, momentarily lost in thought when a post-game question was posed. Perhaps it was because it had been 3 months since he had experienced the disappointment of defeat.
Brumbaugh-led South Fayette’s football team short-circuited a splendid season a step shy of the statewide stage for Brest and Hickory High with a 23-20 win over the Hornets in the PIAA Class AA western regional championship game.
SPORTVIEW: Browns, Steelers will both lose
THE CLEVELAND Browns quarterback position has been a revolving door this season, but at least one of the more successful signal-callers is back. Jason Campbell is recovered from a concussion and will start.
Does it really matter?
Roundup: Opening-weekend tipoff tourneys conclude
Kittanning Tipoff Championship
ä Hickory 60, Kittanning 32 — Coach Jeannette Whitehead’s Lady Hornets had an impressive weekend in winning the opening tourney of the season.
“It’s nice to get out of the game with a win,” said Whitehead. “The kids were anxious to get going.”
2013-14 hoops season begins with tipoff tourneys
Farrell Julius McCoy Tipoff Tourney
ä Kennedy Catholic 48, Imani Christian Academy 40 — The Golden Eagles set up an all local rematch with host Farrell by pulling away in the fourth quarter in a tight battle.
For KC, Gerald Zachar and Sam Crow each scored 13 points to pace the victory, Brown had 14 and Southerner 12 for Imani.
Brookfield boys win season-opener against Py Valley
It was a typical season-opener: Too many turnovers, some questionable shot selection, and careless personal fouls. But for Brookfield High boys’ bench boss Bill Kovach, “ ... always happy with a win.”
The Warriors were 7-for-10 from the free-throw line during the 4th frame, and held off Pymatuning Valley, 59-48, Tuesday night.
Hornets advance to semis with win over Central
DuBOIS, PA. — Some people could say the “third time is a charm.” For the Hickory High Hornets it was much more than that. In fact, it was glorious.
After losing in the first round of the PIAA Class AA playoffs the last two years, the Hornets finally nailed down a victory with a 37-27 triumph over the Central Dragons from Martinsburg.
Lakeview falls to Clarion Area in PIAA quarterfinals
SLIPPERY ROCK — In the scholastic athletic arena, “mercy rule” — while not politically correct in hyper-sensitive 2013 society — is a relatively accepted term.
Clarion High’s football had mercy-ruled all 13 prior opponents this season. And the Bobcats seemed bent on continuing their commanding conquests during Saturday’s PIAA Class A quarterfinal-round meeting with Lakeview.
Hickory focused on winning PIAA opener
The calendar reminds us that Thanksgiving arrives a little later than usual this year. But as holiday traditions go, this one has been pretty productive for Hickory High head football coach Bill Brest.
“My wife always has me put up our Christmas tree on the Friday after Thanksgiving ... and the next day, we’ve won. So I’ll be more than happy to help my wife put up the tree this Friday,” Brest related.
During the past 2 years Hickory has won District 10 titles on Thanksgiving weekend. But this year the Hornets harvested their 3rd consecutive crown last week, jettisoning Girard (21-10). Now Hickory (11-1) has a 1 p.m. date in DuBois Saturday against surprising Central-Martinsburg (11-2) in the PIAA Class AA quarterfinals.
Smart move by PIAA to schedule games early this weekend
Congratulations to the PIAA for making a good move that helps teams and fans of high school sports.
Wow, I haven’t been able to say that often enough!
But many of the high school football games this coming weekend will be played in the afternoon which is a real plus for traveling on possibly snow-blown highways at this time of the year.
Hornets 3-peat as D-10 champs with win vs. Girard
EDINBORO — When legendary coach Vince Lombardi said “the only good thing that comes from losing is the desire never to lose again,” he could very well have been referencing the future for Coach Bill Brest and his Hickory Hornets.
Since Hickory lost to Sharon, 14-6, in the 2010 District 10 finals in Brest’s first year at the helm of the team, the D-10 Class AA title game has belonged to Hickory. And Saturday afternoon at Edinboro University’s Sox Harrison Stadium, it was no different as the Hornets topped Girard, 21-10 for a third straight crown.
Sailors beat Devils to capture 1st District 10 title
NEW WILMINGTON — Lakeview may have a long way to go to equal Sharpsville’s success in the sport of football, but the Sailors jump-started the process Friday night.
With Blake Reddick roaring into the record book, the Sailors shut out Sharpsville, 27-0, in the District 10 Class A championship game at Greyhounds Stadium.
Hornets seek 3-peat Saturday vs. Girard
Bill Brest ... buffer?
Hickory High’s head football coach has broad shoulders and that’s necessary, because he’s taking on all distractions as his Hornets prepare for Saturday’s District 10 Class AA championship game.
Hickory (10-1) will attempt to hoist the D-10 trophy for a 3rd consecutive season when the Hornets journey to Girard’s backyard — Edinboro University’s Sox Harrison Stadium — to meet the Yellow Jackets at 1 p.m.
Hickory rolls past Northwestern in D-10 semifinals
SLIPPERY ROCK — They say that “Familiarity breeds contempt.” You can bet the Northwestern Wildcats are feeling a bit of the latter for the Hickory Hornets!
For a third straight season Hickory eliminated the northerners from the District 10 Class AA playoffs, this time by a 52-14 score in the semifinals Saturday night at Slippery Rock University’s Thompson-Mihalik Stadium.
Greenville falls to Girard in D-10 semifinals
ERIE — District 10 was destined for a Class AA championship game between reigning 2-time titlist Hickory and Greenville.
But no one informed the Girard High football team of the plans.
“ … This is pretty cool … I’m pretty fired up about it,” admitted 4th-year Yellow Jackets’ head coach Jim Funk after Girard jolted Greenville, 16-14.
SPORTVIEW: Season fate could be decided today for Browns, Steelers
IT MAKES NO sense to say that one game determines the rest of the season. That’s why I’ll simply say: Today’s one game determines the rest of the season.
Since when did my predictions make sense anyhow?
The Cleveland Browns’ visit to Cincinnati today will go a long way to deciding if the Browns have a shot at making the playoffs — and even winning the AFC North title — or if they should start planning for the NFL draft.
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