Franklin Regional boys rounding into form at right time
Franklin Regional has come a long way from the season-opening Hempfield tournament, where it was missing four key players, including senior forward Simon Behr, who was attending the Army-Navy football game.
Behr, who played quarterback, tight end and linebacker for the Panthers, committed to play football at Army. But in the PIAA boys basketball playoff opener Friday night, he played another role: hero.
Behr’s short-range hook-shot fell through the hoop with 2.5 seconds left to lift Franklin Regional (14-11) to a 52-51 upset of WPIAL champion Moon (20-6) in the Class 5A opener at Plum.
Franklin Regional’s stunner moves it into the second round where it will face Meadville (23-1) 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Farrell.
The Panthers endured injuries and absences throughout the year and did not have their expected lineup together until late in the season — for a half-dozen games or so. With the team healthy, it’s finding the chemistry it was missing months ago. It’s a what-could-have-been story that got a second chance to be told.
“This means so much to us because we put in so much work in the offseason,” junior guard Nate Leopold said. “We had some guys out at times during the season, but we all came together at the end.”
Moon beat the Panthers during the regular season and again in the WPIAL quarterfinals, so Franklin Regional needed Moon to win the WPIAL title to make states.
Those who follow the Panthers know the potential — stunted early but rekindled late — always was there.
“As a coach I am biased,” said coach Brad Midgley, a former standout at Bishop Canevin who had a respectable career at Duquesne. “I knew what we were capable of. We knew we’d have to piggy-back (Moon) to make states, so you’re not quite sure if your season will continue. Then it kind of just hits you: You’re in. We just had to keep our focus.”
Leopold said the winning hoop Friday could have gone to another senior forward, Hunter Stonecheck. But with him well guarded, the ball went to the 6-foot-4 Behr, who caught it outside the 3-point arc, dribbled into the lane and made an old-school post move over Moon star Jarrod Simmons. The ball bounced around the rim and fell as Behr outshined Simmons down the stretch. Behr, who had 18 points, scored the Panthers’ last six, including a free-throw-line jumper to make it 50-49, Panthers.
The referee put an extra second on the clock after Behr’s clutch hoop, but Moon could not get a good shot off and the WPIAL’s fifth-place team moved on.
“We were going to go to Hunter, but I told Simon to be ready,” Leopold said. “That’s his move. He’s been doing that for years.”
The Panthers made the most of their first PIAA playoff appearance since 2008.
Behr played with confidence against a team Franklin Regional knew well.
“They had just won the WPIAL title, and we had nothing to lose,” Behr said. “It’s so surreal. We couldn’t believe we were in states. It’s awesome. We never imagined we’d be in states and pulling off a win like this on March 10.”
Franklin Regional has made only four appearances in the PIAA playoffs but made noise in the past. In 1997, the Panthers reached the Class AAAA championship game before falling to Plymouth-Whitemarsh, 50-45, in Hershey.
“We went to a zone (against Moon) and really played well,” Leopold said. “We feel like we can play with anybody.”
Behr lost his father, Jeffrey, about a year ago. Jeffrey Behr died from injuries suffered in a skiing accident at Seven Springs Resort.
Simon knows his father would have been proud. The senior has had some big moments in football too but, “This one was special,” Simon said.