ProfessorBriggs.com

PROFESSOR'S PROVERBS -- MARCH 21, 2020

To say that we are living in unusual times would be equivalent to saying that the Rolling Stones have sold some concert tickets over the years. When you work in sports, are a fan of sports and have hobbies/side enterprises that are in sports, the lack of sports is unsettling. It is understandable, however, considering the COVID-19 situation across the country and around the world.

As you know, the PIAA basketball tournaments have indefinitely been put on hold due to COVID-19. Ninety-four boys and girls teams are waiting in the quarterfinals and four Class 6A boys teams are hoping to complete the second round and advanced to the state quarterfinals. With four local teams still alive (Kennedy girls, Farrell boys, Grove City boys, Hickory boys), there was a chance that at least one of our local teams could reach Hershey.

At this point, it seems like a real longshot that the tournament will be completed. I have my equipment charged and my radio station shirts laundered for if/when I get the call for a quarterfinal, semifinal and/or championship game.

In the meantime, I decided to take a look back at what has personally been a fun and interesting broadcast season. Thanks to Sports Radio 96.7/790 WPIC sports director/sales manager Bob Greenburg, I had the opportunity to call 39 regular season and postseason games this year. Bob and I worked together more often this season than we had in the past and it is always enjoyable to work with him.

A hearty thanks to all of my broadcast partners this year: George Abraham, Brian Brown, Bob Greenburg and Kolten Hoffman. I enjoy working with all of them.

I thought about ranking all 39 games, but that would present more problems, such as:
*Someone's going to be salty about their team being ranked as playing in the "worst" game I called this season.
*How do you differentiate No. 27 from No. 28? Or No. 15 from No. 16?

Fortunately, I didn't have too many stinkers this year. I thought I'd list the top five games I've had (so far) and offer a few thoughts on them. These are games that I called. The Class 2A boys title game between Lakeview-Farrell is going to be high on any list, but I had the Sharon-Fairview Class 3A title game (a good fray itself) that night.

Without further delay:

Honorable Mention (in chronological order):
*December 21 - Allderdice 53, Kennedy 48 (Two outstanding girls teams battling tooth-and-nail for 32 minutes at Hickory; games like this are why Kennedy advanced to the state quarterfinals);
*February 11 - Grove City 51, Franklin 50 (big Senior Night win for Grove City boys)
*February 26 - Grove City 53, Warren 45 (Grove City girls pull away late for D-10 semifinal win over Warren)
*March 11 -- Kennedy 53, Shanksville 45 (Kennedy girls hold off Shanksville for PIAA win in Punxsutawney; if it's the last game I called this year, not a bad one with which to conclude)

No. 5: January 3 - Kennedy 67, Farrell 64 (B)
The renewal of the Kennedy Catholic-Farrell series in boys basketball this season stands out as one of the high points of the 2019-20 season. While the second meeting between the teams did not have conference or playoff implications, the game had a mid-March atmosphere. Ike Herster fired in 34 points for Kennedy while Farrell senior guards Eric Hopson (27) and Ben King (19) combined for 46 points. Kennedy led 16-15 after one quarter and 33-32 at halftime. Farrell inched ahead, 48-45, after 24 minutes but Kennedy rallied to complete the season sweep. A fine way to start the new calendar year.

No. 4: February 15 - Mercer 55, Iroquois 53 (G)
First-round games in the District 10 basketball tournament are often a mixed bag. Some good games, some blowouts and some that end up in between. The Mercer-Iroquois Class 2A first round girls game at the County Seat looked like a blowout early, turned into a foul fest and ultimately came down to a final shot at the end. Mercer trailed big early and faced an 18-9 deficit after one quarter.

Julia Balaski scored the final six points of the half for Mercer, helping the M's cut Iroquois's lead to 28-24. Mercer finally took a brief lead late in the third quarter on consecutive three-pointers from Delaney Fisher and Mackenzie Baker, only to see Iroquois reclaim a 44-43 lead. The teams then traded the lead throughout the final quarter. Mercer led 55-53 in the closing moments and relied on its defense to get a game-clinching stop. Balaski finished with 19 while Peyton (12) and Darby (11) Miller also scored in double figures. The first half featured 25 fouls and 32 attempted free throws. Ultimately, three Iroquois players fouled out in the fourth quarter. Somewhat surprisingly, no Mercer players DQ'd.

No. 3: January 11 - Hickory 67, Erie McDowell 61 (B)
Four District 10 boys basketball teams advanced to the state quarterfinals this season in their respective classes. Two of them met at Westminster College's Memorial Field House on a Saturday night. Hickory led throughout in what could best be described as a high-level game. Peyton Mele fired in six three-pointers as part of a game-high 27 points for Hickory. Donald Whitehead scored 18 of his 25 in the second half, including 11 in the fourth quarter. McDowell's William Jeffress, one of the nation's top basketball recruits, scored 20 points over the final three quarters for his squad. Two excellent teams dueling in a playoff-like atmosphere.

No. 2: March 10 - Grove City 45, Highlands 38 (B)
If I created a list of games that I enjoyed the most, this would be at the top of the list. Grove City executed its game plan perfectly against the District 7 champions in the PIAA second round at North Allegheny. Highlands jumped out to a 10-2 lead and it looked like the Rams would run Grove City out of the gym. But the Eagles hung in there and whittled the lead to 22-17 by halftime. Highlands played a matchup zone, which helped Grove City slow down the pace of the game.

The Eagles finally took the lead early in the fourth quarter on Danny Timko's backdoor layup, 33-32. Highlands tried to speed up the game with a 2-1-2 press that Grove City handled with relative ease, thanks to a four-guard deployment. Dylan Stull hit consecutive field goals and Kade Persinger followed with a deuce, giving Grove City a 39-32 lead. Highlands quickly answered with back-to-back three-pointers from Korry Myers and Antoine McDaniel, sandwiched around Grove City's only missed foul shot of the night. 

However, Stull, Michael Brooks and Persinger all went 2 for 2 at the foul line down the stretch to sew up the win. Grove City went 11 for 12 at the line while Highlands finished 4 of 10. Persinger (17), Timko (12) and Stull (11) all scored in double figures as Grove City advanced to the state quarterfinals for the first time in 13 years.

No. 1: December 17 - Franklin 83, Sharon 80 (2 OT); January 23 - Franklin 52, Sharon 51 (B)
Had Sharon not pulled out a 54-52 victory over Franklin in the District 10 Class 3A semifinals, I would have been more apprehensive about listing these two games in the top spot, considering that the Mercer County team went 0-for-2 in the regular season series. But, these were two drama-filled, highly-competitive games between teams that were about as even as two teams could be. Plus, while Franklin is not in Mercer County, the Knights predominantly play Mercer County teams and have good series with schools such as Sharon, Grove City and Hickory. So, it's not as if we're talking about Carmichaels or Moshannon Valley.

As evidenced by the final scores of the two regular season games, the games greatly differed. Franklin's reliance upon the three-pointer and Sharon's commitment to going inside against the smaller Knights remained constant in both games, however. Franklin hit 11 three-pointers in the first meeting at Sharon, including three triples in the second overtime. Easton Fulmer gave Franklin the lead and eventual win with two seconds left by hitting a pull-up three-pointer that broke an 80-80 tie. Fulmer finished with 26 points while Hayden Adams hit four three-pointers as part of a 20-point effort.

Twenty-six of Sharon's 29 field goals came inside the three-point line that night. Senior center Mer'Quan Peterson led Sharon with 20 points while Michael Calloway (16), Camren Atallah (13) and Brayden Coxson (13) joined him in double figures.

Sharon led 19-14 after one quarter but Franklin took a 30-29 halftime lead after closing the second quarter on an 11-2 run. Zak Smith put Franklin ahead with a three-pointer late in the half. Franklin then took a 51-49 lead into the fourth quarter. Sharon forged a 65-65 tie at the end of regulation and each team scored eight points in the first overtime.

In the rematch at Franklin, Sharon trailed 30-22 at halftime. Malik Lampkins-Rudolph's three-point play helped ignite a 7-0 run to start the second half as Sharon cut the lead to 30-29. Sharon eventually took a 51-50 lead when Calloway hit two free throws.

With 3.2 seconds left, Sharon fouled Franklin point guard Dalton Buckley. The foul -- Sharon's eighth of the half -- put Buckley on the line for a 1-and-1. Buckley had missed his first three foul shots of the game and also went 1 of 5 at the line in the first meeting with Sharon. As he stepped to the foul line with the game at stake, Buckley had made 38 of 70 (54 percent) of his free throws on the season. 

As an illustration as to why we love sports and why the human element is still so imporant in a numbers/analytics-driven environment, Buckley made both ends of the 1-and-1 to give Franklin the lead and ultimately, the win.

Although free throws decided the game at the end, the teams attempted only 17 total foul shots. Sharon went 4 for 9 and Franklin made 5 of 8 free throws. Nine of Franklin's 19 field goals came from behind the three-point line. Adams hit five threes and finished with a game-high 19 points. Coxson led Sharon with 14.

With Hickory, Franklin, Grove City, Sharon and Sharpsville, plus pesky Conneaut and Greenville involved, Region 5 provided plenty of excitement and drama on the boys' side throughout the 2019-20 season. Hopefully, those teams will stay grouped together in the regional realignment, whenever that happens.

*Speaking of regions, the All-Region teams for boys and girls basketball recently came out. The Erie Times-News coordinates the voting -- the Times-News doesn't pick the teams, contrary to what some think. Overall, it appears that the coaches did a responsible job of selecting teams. There did not appear to be any malfeasance. One could possibly debate that Player A should have been on First Team and Player B should have been on Second Team, but that comes with any sort of selections such as this.

In the early years of this web site, I used to give out a cavalcade of awards, such as an all-Mercer County team, Coach of the Year, etc. I've discontinued that because as one whose "real" job is in a collegiate athletic department, I would not want to be accused of trying to influence potential recruits with some publicity or recognition such as an All-County award. No doubt that someone, somewhere, would try to connect dots that shouldn't be connected.

A few years ago, the staff of Sports Radio 96.7 and 790 WPIC selected All-Mercer County teams, along with other traditional awards. Sadly, that proved to be a one-year wonder due to too much negative feedback from folks. Twenty-plus years ago, WWIZ radio used to have the "WIZZY" awards, which had all of those regular awards, plus some fun awards. But as one of my colleagues pointed out, people are too thin-skinned for a program like that now. No one has a sense of humor anymore.

*Next time, which will hopefully be soon, I'll come up with some ideas to improve the PIAA basketball tournaments.

Questions? Comments? You can email me or tweet to me.