This being District 10 championship weekend, let’s hear from a bona fide authority on the subject – Sharon High senior Frank Shaffer.
“It’s great! It’s something ... ever since I was a little kid I’ve wanted to be playin’ in district championship games for Sharon, goin’ to states for Sharon. It’s been my dream since I was a little kid, and now that it’s finally comin’ true, I’m just so grateful,” Shaffer summarized.
Considering he and Tigers’ teammate Josh Torr were part of the past 4 Sharon football teams to compete for D-10 titles (winning the last 2) and are now preparing for his 2nd straight appearance on the hardwood for Sharon skipper Zach Sarver, Shaffer knows of what he speaks.
Tonight, for Mercer County’s cage contingent, Sharon is the sole squad seeking to defend its District 10 crown (edging Hickory 71-66 last year) – though the Tigers will do so in Class 3A this year after having annexed the 2018 Class 4A title. But Sharon will be keeping company with a county contingent that dominates the 6-county cage boys’ brackets.
Sharon will face Fairview, the reigning 3A champion, at 7:30 p.m. in Farrell High’s venerable E.J. McCluskey Gymnasium.
With Slippery Rock University’s Morrow Field House serving as the venue, a doubleheader will feature Farrell facing Wilmington for the 2A crown, with Hickory going against Grove City in the 4A title tilt at 6 and 7:30 p.m., respectively.
And the Class 1A championship game will pit Commodore Perry and Jamestown tipping off at 6 p.m. at Meadville Area Senior High’s “House of Thrills.”
Consolation contests include a trio of county clubs coveting PIAA playoff berths: West Middlesex – which won the 2018 Class 2A title – will meet Lakeview at 6 p.m. in the opener of the twin bill at Farrell while surprising Sharpsville meets Mercyhurst Prep in 4A at 7:30 p.m. in the nightcap at Meadville.
Previously, Kennedy Catholic captured the Class 6A crown. The Golden Eagles, reigning 3-time Class 1A commonwealth kingpins, are already involved in PIAA subregional playoffs and go against Allderdice 8 p.m on Saturday at SRU.
So with championships – and legacies – on the line, Shaffer’s simple successful formula? “ ... stay committed in practice, keep workin’ how we’ve been, stay hot, and just keep winnin’ – that’s basically it. That’s all you can do.”
Sharon (20-4) vs. Fairview (18-6)
This will be Fairview’s 4th consecutive district championship game appearance. The Tigers have taken titles in (2018, 2009, ‘01, 1986 and 1957).
According to Sharon City School District’s Matt Vannoy, Sharon and Fairview have met on 3 prior occasions in the D-10 quarterfinals: ‘08 (Fairview, 65-40, in AA); 1985 (Sharon, 52-36, AAA), and ‘84 (Sharon, 47-44, AAA).
Vannoy’s research noted Sharon’s all-time program record in district championship games (WPIAL and D-10) – 14-4 – as well as its collective district tournament ledger – 55-29. Sharon secured championships in 1920, ‘27, ‘28, ‘29, 1930, ‘36, ‘37, 1942, ‘44, 1953, ‘57, 1990, ‘91, and 2018, and runner-up berths in 1939, 1946, 1995, and ‘98.
And perhaps the most salient point via Vannoy’s research – which Shaffer can appreciate as much as anyone – Sharon is in select company in county annals. Last season the Tigers’ twin titles in football and basketball were the 10th time in Mercer County athletic annals. That followed Farrell (1951-52) and Wilmington (1987-88) in the WPIAL, and Sharon (1990-91 and 2017-18), Kennedy (Christian) Catholic (1994-95, ‘98-99, and ‘05-06), Farrell (‘08-09), and Wilmington (2016-17) in D-10.
Sharon could become, according to Vannoy, the first Mercer County-area school to accomplish the football/basketball double-double in back-to-back years.
For Fairview, 5-foot-11 senior guard Jamison Cook (14.78) is the Tigers’ top scorer, while Matt Niland has knocked down 54 treys (stats courtesy of The Erie Times-News). Niland also has notched 66 of 85 free-throw attempts (77.6). In Fairview’s semifinal win over Sharpsville (52-46), Cook collected a game-high 21 points. Also figuring in for Fairview’s Pat Flaherty – the triumphant Tigers’ taskmaster – are 6-4 junior frontliner Phillip Thiem and 6-1 senior swingman Nick Sundberg.
Interestingly, among common opponents Fairview fell to Mercyhurst Prep (48-35) and Hickory (56-39). Sharon split a Shenango Valley rivalry with Hickory (winning 61-58 at Tiger Gymnasium; losing 69-52 at The Hive in Hermitage), and the Tigers toppled Prep (62-47) in this past Tuesday’s semifinals.
Hickory (23-1) vs. Grove City (16-8)
This is a renewal of a regular-season Region 5 rivalry. Coach Chris Mele’s ‘Stingers swept the home-and-home series – 55-29 at The Hive and 71-55 at Grove City.
Hickory’s Donald Whitehead went for 25 and 19 points, respectively, in those wins, while Peyton Mele mustered double digits in both (11 and 13). At Grove City, however, Hickory’s Isaiah Jarzab jolted the Eagles for 19 points after scoring just 4 in Hermitage.
For 1st-year Head Coach Chris Kwolek’s club, Marcos Cintron scorched the ‘Stingers for 15 and 21 points, respectively; unlike the initial meeting, however, he had help at home as Kade Persinger pumped in 12 points, while Logan Lutz lent another dozen.
Since its lone loss Hickory has harvested15 consecutive conquests. The Eagles are enjoying 7 wins in their last 8 outings with the lone loss ... to Sharon (54-40). During that skein the ‘Grovers are garnering 66.8 points per game. Hickory has scored 78 or more points on 8 occasions (5 times 80-plus).
Farrell (20-3) vs. Wilmington (16-7)
Coach Bobby Stewart’s Steelers are seeking their own double-double, following in the football program’s footsteps – coached by Stewart’s nephew, Jarrett Samuels.
Similar to Sharon’s Shaffer and Torr, Farrell features footballers Kyi Wright, Kobe and Brian Hilton, Elijah Harper, Adrian Daniels, Omar Stewart, Jaiman and Trian Holden, Brice Butler and Christian Hartley, who could hoist hardwood hardware as they did at Hersheypark Stadium less than 3 months ago.
Not to be outdone are Greyhounds’ gridders Robert Pontius, Cam Marett, Colton Richards, Jacob Yohman, Tage Kelliher, Danny Hanssen, Shane Cox, Junior McConahy, Caelin Bender, Marcus Tokar, Weston Phanco, Braxton Shimrack, Jordan Hess and Mason Reed for cage Coach Mike Jeckavitch. The aforementioned group of Greyhounds got to Hershey for football’s 2A championship game.
The Steelers swept the home-and-home regular-season Region 2 rivalry with Wilmington (64-48 at Wilmington; 56-47 at McCluskey Gym). In the former, Ben King collected a game-high 24 points against the Greyhounds, while Eric Hopson (15) and Kobe Hilton (10) had double figures for Farrell. Reyonte Hammonds and Wright went for 17 and 16 points, respectively, in the latter meeting. Hanssen had 19 points at New Wilmington, while Kelliher copped 20 at Farrell; however, those ‘Hounds were the lone double-figure scorers in those games.
Farrell has forged a dozen consecutive wins and 20 of its last 21 (losing only to D-10 6A finalist Erie) after the Steelers suffered back-to-back season-opening setbacks – sans the aforementioned footballers. Meanwhile Wilmington has won 5 straight and 10 of its last 11.
Commodore Perry (6-17) vs. Jamestown (11-11)
Muskies’ mentor Scot Vannoy legitimately could be considered for D-10 coach of the year. Now in his 6th season Vannoy has vaulted Jamestown from 1-, 2-, 2-, and 8-win seasons to back-to-back double-digit successes (12-13 last year). The last 2 years included back-to-back D-10 runners-up berths and the first pair of PIAA playoffs appearances in program annals.
This season Jamestown swept the home-and-home regular-season Region 1 rivalry with Commodore Perry (78-60 in Sheakleyville; 65-29 in Jamestown). Additionally, Jamestown enjoyed a 42-35 victory over the host Panthers in the annual Jared Snyder Memorial Holiday tourney. In the trio of triumphs Jamestown was led by Darian Keyser’s collective 47 points. Keyser was complemented by Austin Smith (45), Richard Graham (36), and Elliott Steadman (29).
Commodore Perry product and former standout player Eugene Grinnell has navigated the Panthers’ continued improvement. That culminated in a recent D-10 tourney semifinals success over Tidioute Community Charter School (41-35).
According to available archives at The Herald, this could be the most successful season in Panthers’ program annals since the back-to-back (1959-60 and ‘60-61) teams advanced to the then-Class C western regional finals. Jim Storey and Jim McConnell coached those clubs. The latter, which won the county’s Class C crown by sweeping the season series with Jamestown, copped the D-10 title with a win over Wesleyville (59-58).
Those Panthers were paced by eventual Mercer County Hall-of-Famers Dave Cook – the former Mercer High mentor – and Newt Reash. Cook copped 456 points that season and Reash recorded 377 – among the county’s best that year.
In head-to-head meetings with this year’s Muskies, Commodore Perry has been paced by Jared Mink (40 points, including 3 double-digit games), Hunter Artman (35, including a 22-point performance), and Nate Stringert (28).
West Middlesex (18-7) v. Lakeview (16-9)
This will provide – not only a PIAA playoff berth for the winner – but an interesting coaching contrast. Middlesex mentor Chad Mild (20th season, 352-280) is the dean of current county coaches; conversely, Garrett Blaschak is in his 1st season at the helm as Sailors’ skipper.
An interesting footnote: Blaschak is named for his grandfather, legendary West Middlesex standout Chuck Garrett, a long-time area cage coach. Garrett Blaschak’s father, Matt, coached Reynolds girls to 16 wins and the D-10 Class 2A runner-up berth last season (losing to West Middlesex), then a pair of PIAA playoff wins before being eliminated in the state quarterfinals.
The squads split the regular-season Region 2 series: the Big Reds rolled in West Middlesex (73-58, led by Kaz Hoffman’s 18 points and 15, 13, 13 and 11, respectively, from Casey Mild, Zach Long, Ricky Ladjevich and Jake Bowen). In Stoneboro, the host Sailors outscored Middlesex during the 2nd half, 26-16, en route to a 48-38 success. Hunter Miller mustered 18 markers and Gavin Boggs bucketed 14 more as the Sailors shot 22-for-29 from the free-throw line (led by Boggs’ 10-for-14 and Miller’s 7-for-8 marksmanship), while the Big Reds recorded a 12-for-15 ledger.
Sharpsville (15-9) vs. Mercyhurst Prep (19-5)
Another D-10 coach of the year candidate is rookie Sharpsville skipper Matt Durisko.
In spite of injuries, Durisko has directed the Blue Devils to more wins than last season’s Sharpsville squad (12), which advanced to this same consy contest ... against Mercyhurst Prep. The Blue Devils were defeated that night (70-55), as the Lakers were led by many of the same cast of characters – including guards Griffin Herron (17) and Alex Miklinski (13). But, ditto for the Blue Devils, who were paced by Max Messett (18), Noah Flaherty (10), and Ja’Quay Hubbard and Luke Levis (8 apiece).
Ultimately, Coach Sean Baer’s Lakers laid 11 triples that night in outscoring Sharpsville during the 2nd half.
Note: A preview for the KC-Allderdice PIAA 6A subregional game will appear in Saturday’s edition of The Herald.