East Xtra: Franklin Regional awaits No. 2 seed Hampton

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All season long the Franklin Regional boys basketball team has dealt with adversity.

In a tough Class AAAA Section 2 race, few observers believed they would finish second competing against the likes of Fox Chapel Area, Plum, Gateway, Central Catholic and McKeesport Area.

They did.

Even fewer thought they would make it to the WPIAL quarterfinals.

They did.

Well ... not many people outside the Panthers locker room thought so.

"I don't think we were a team that early in the season our name was brought up a lot," Panthers coach Brad Midgley said. "For the most part we felt that we had a good year and stayed the course. We knew it wasn't [the type of] a section where you could go undefeated. We have gotten better and got a strong finish and hope to keep it going."

The Panthers are one of eight Class AAAA teams remaining after their first round, 71-59, win against Seneca Valley last Saturday. The playoff win was the first one experienced by this group of Panthers.

"I think it gave us a lot of confidence," Midgley said. "Going into the game, it is a territory you are not used to. To go into that kind of atmosphere and perform and deal with adversity, it did us a lot of good.

"I am sure they were nervous and had some anxiety. We went through our goals and prepared them as much as we could."

The Panthers and Raiders were even for 24 of the 32 minutes in regulation, but it was the adjustments in the second quarter that broke the game wide open. The Panthers outscored the Raiders 15-5 in the frame, including a 13-0 run, and never looked back.

"We focused a little more on keeping the guys in front of us," Midgley said. "We switched from a zone to a man. Our big guys did a great job of coming down and collapsing to create turnovers, which turned into easy offense."

The Panthers got balanced scoring with four guys in double figures led by junior Matt Fisch's 18 points.

"We do a pretty good job sharing the ball," Midgley said. "We don't need one person to score 25 or 30 points for us. We have good balance. Different guys are going to step up on different nights."

The Panthers are going to need more of the same if they want to knock of the No. 2 seed Hampton Talbots on Saturday. The Talbots easily disposed of Peters Township in the first round, 61-26.

"They are obviously a very good team," Midgley said. "You can tell from the scores of their games this year. They are an experienced group. We scrimmage them every year before the season so we are familiar with them."

Even with the familiarity, the Panthers know they need to execute and take care of the basketball in order to win this game. The key aspect for Midgley's squad is going to be how they handle Hampton's pressing defense.

"We have to handle the pressure," Midgley said. "They do a great job on creating havoc and turnovers. Once you beat that pressure, it can create some opportunities on offense. We are going to make plays as much as we can."

Although the Panthers may be undersized, their effort is going to have to be at an all-time high on defense to limit Hampton's opportunities.

"I definitely feel we need to take advantage of the opportunities that are given to us," Midgley said. "Whoever is taking care of them on defense needs to capitalize and hopefully we will have another balanced effort."

"We need to execute with some of their screenings and limit them to one shot. We need to do our job boxing out to limit their points as much as we can."

Even though the Luther twins -- Ryan, a 6-foot-8 Pitt recruit, and 6-6 Collin -- receive most of the media coverage for the Talbots, the Panthers know they can't solely zero in on those two in order to win the game.

"Collin and Ryan get a lot of press but you can't focus on one guy too much," Midgley said. "Everyone who sees them play knows they are balanced. We need to play good team defense and that will hopefully give us a chance."

One thing the Panthers have done a lot of lately that will work to their advantage is winning. The last time the Panthers were on the losing end of a game was on Jan. 21 at Fox Chapel. That is seven consecutive wins and the Panthers are fairly confident they can change that to eight on Saturday.

"I think all the guys on the team believe that things have clicked and we are hitting our stride," Midgley said.

"There is a lot of adversity in each individual game. The outcome is based on how you adjust and we have done a good job with that."

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