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Franklin Regional girls basketball ready for WPIAL playoff competition

William Whalen
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Cali Konek has helped Franklin Regional to a 15-5 record this season. The Panthers’ losses are to ranked teams.
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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Mars’ Tai Johnson scores next to Franklin Regional’s Noelle Boyd during their game Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, at Franklin Regional High School.
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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Franklin Regional’s Alex Reitz steals the ball next to Mars’ Alek Johnson during their game Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, at Franklin Regional High School.
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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Franklin Regional’s Jordan Yaniga scores past Mars’ Ellie Coffield (1) and Bella Pelaia during their game Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, at Franklin Regional High School.

Seasons almost certainly come down to a few defining moments. Most time, those moments arrive during big games. The Franklin Regional girls basketball team knows all about taking advantage of those opportunities.

Trailing by one point deep on the road against defending PIAA Class 5A champion Mars, Franklin Regional had just seconds left on the clock. The Panthers had lost a 14-point lead.

The moment had come to define a season.

First-year Panthers coach Anthony Kobus called a timeout and drew up a play for senior Cali Konek to use a screen to drive baseline.

The play didn’t go quite as planned.

Konek’s running floater was off the mark, but 5-foot-9 senior forward Jordan Yaniga, grabbed the rebound and her putback gave the Panthers a 52-51 victory.

It was a signature win for the Panthers (15-5, 9-2 Section 2-5A). The play might have lacked style points, but it didn’t matter.

“It was amazing,” Yaniga said. “I think that (win) definitely gave us more confidence going through the season and to think that we could actually accomplish something special. It gave us the drive to compete.”

Yaniga’s basket sent the Franklin Regional bench into a frenzy and Konek reacted the only way she knew how: “I jumped 6-feet in the air (celebrating),” Konek said. “I wish there was a picture of the bench. We didn’t care how they were ranked.”

The win was a wide-eyed wake-up call to the rest of WPIAL Class 5A that Franklin Regional is for real.

“When they go out on that court, it’s a business-like approach for them and when they’re done they have fun again,” said Kobus. “That’s what’s nice about this team.”

Franklin Regional is locked into a second-place finish in the section, but the Panthers are on the rise. They even cracked the top five of the latest Trib HSSN Class 5A rankings.

“I kind of like that mentality of the team,” Kobus said. “They don’t read the newspapers that much, and they didn’t even know they were ranked.”

The team’s losses came against ranked opponents: Bethel Park, Gateway, Brentwood and Peters Township. The Panthers went toe-to-toe with some of the top teams from the WPIAL and didn’t flinch.

“They’ve been in preparation all year, and I know it’s cliche, but they take it one game at a time,” Kobus said.

“The second time we played (Gateway), they were a little upset and felt they should have won it. It’s a good sign that the girls understand how good they can be.”

Franklin Regional has big plans this postseason, but has to fight recent history.

The last time Franklin Regional was victorious in the postseason was in 2013 against Albert Gallatin in a Class 4A preliminary-round game.

“I think we’re pretty prepared,” Konek said. “Playing Gateway twice, we did learn a lot against them. These last three games (of the regular season) will help us get prepared for the playoffs.”

William Whalen is a freelance writer.