East Xtra: Teammates pulling together at Franklin Regional

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Franklin Regional High School received national attention recently ... but not for a good reason.

The school was in the spotlight on the morning of April 9 when one if its students went on a rampage, stabbing more than 20 fellow students, teachers and other personnel. Several of those were seriously injured.

Afterward, the communities of Murrysville, Export and Delmont, which make up the school district, united to form an even stronger bond. People from those communities -- but especially the students at Franklin Regional -- turned to one another for support.

Many in the district cited the school's athletic teams for helping the district return to normalcy. One of those teams affected in midseason was the Panthers baseball team.

"It puts things into perspective," fourth-year coach Bob Sadler said. "It changes coming out there. Wins and losses are less significant. It takes their mind off some of the things going on."

The Panthers are 8-7 overall and 4-6 in Class AAAA Section 3 and started to make a run in the latter part of the season. If this were a Hollywood-style fairy tale, the team would have somehow earned a playoff berth and gone on to win the WPIAL title.

But that's not going to happen. The Panthers closed section play Tuesday with a 7-4 loss against playoff-bound Central Catholic and will end its season today in a non-section game against Greater Latrobe.

The Panthers had a three-game section winning streak snapped last Thursday with a loss to Plum. Before that game, Franklin Regional scored 40 runs in three games against McKeesport, Baldwin and Gateway.

Although the talent has remained the same on the field throughout the year, the relationships have reached a new level both on and off the diamond.

"I don't think anything has changed but they have come a lot closer together," Sadler said. "They leaned on each other a little bit more. We have been there for each other.

"You value relationships more. You look at the kids in a different light. You want to make sure they are having fun on the field. You want to make sure they are performing well but some things are more important than that."

Heading into the final week of the season, the Panthers were narrowly hanging on to a chance to earn the final playoff spot in the section. That chance was shattered on Monday when Central Catholic beat Plum to clinch the final spot.

"We have to hope that Plum takes care of business," Sadler said before Monday's games. "They are playing a good Central Catholic team. We would have liked to control our own destiny but we don't have that advantage."

The Vikings did have that luxury and took advantage, defeating Plum, 8-7, to eliminate the Panthers from playoff contention.

The Panthers may not have the opportunity to extend their season past today when they play host to Latrobe for the final game of the regular season, but Sadler believes his team has accomplished more than most with all the players have been through this year.

"They battled all year," Sadler said. "Every single practice they came out and did what they had to do.

"Collectively this has been a team effort. We had some guys stand out hitting, but we picked each other up on both sides of the field. In different stages different players have stepped up and that's what it takes to be a team."

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