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.
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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