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High School Basketball

Westmoreland basketball notebook: FR’s Kobus among many thriving 1st-year coaches

Bill Beckner Jr.

Anthony Kobus thought a player was joking during a Franklin Regional girls basketball practice when she mentioned the team had not won a section title since 1979.

“I laughed at first,” Kobus said. “Then I noticed she was right. It’s up there on the banner (beside the scoreboard in the gymnasium). We honestly haven’t brought it up much; Section title, playoff berth, none of that.”

Kobus has been all business in his rookie season with the Panthers, coaching up his girls in big games while letting the bonuses happen organically.

Fifth-ranked Franklin Regional is a game behind Gateway for first place in Section 2-5A, their first section title in three decades within earshot, assuming the Panthers handle their end of the bargain in the final few section games, and hope Gateway drops one of its final three contests.

“One of the goals I had when I came in was for us to be able to compete against Kiski Area, Armstrong, Hampton and Plum,” Kobus said, mentioning some teams from his team’s section lineup. “Then we’d be able to see what we had against Mars and Gateway (the top two section contenders in the preseason).”

Franklin Regional has clinched a WPIAL playoff berth and earned a two-game sweep of Mars along the way.

Kobus isn’t the only local first-year coach finding success on the hardwood.

Eighteen new coaches began the season in Westmoreland County and several have their teams ranked, competing for section titles or chasing playoff spots. Sam Salih has the Greensburg Central Catholic girls ranked No. 2 in Class A and nearing a section title.

Derry’s Tom Esposito returned after a 10-year layoff to lead the Trojans back to the playoffs for the first time since 2007-08.

GCC boys coach Greg Bisignani spent a year as an assistant but retook the helm this season and has the team back on track for a playoff return.

Mark Zahorchak and the Greensburg Salem boys are competing well in a tough Section 1-5A.

John Berger has kept Ligonier Valley among the elite in District 6, while Dan Bosnic has kept the bar raised in the Monessen boys program, and Ronnie Drennen has the Belle Vernon girls in the 4A playoffs.

Playoff spots

The local playoff picture in becoming clearer as the WPIAL regular season winds into its final week.

Local girls qualifiers through Wednesday were: Norwin (6A); Franklin Regional (5A); Southmoreland and Belle Vernon (4A); and Greensburg Central Catholic (A).

Area boys teams headed to the postseason so far: Latrobe and Penn-Trafford (6A); Franklin Regional (5A); Derry (4A); Southmoreland (3A); and Monessen and Greensburg Central Catholic (A).

Upset special

Local girls teams have had a flair for upsets this season. WPIAL Class 6A No. 4 Norwin took down No. 1 North Allegheny on Tuesday, 44-43, as Jayla Wehner made a running shot with 6.3 seconds to snap the mighty Tigers’ 48-game regular-season winning streak.

Earlier in the season, three upsets came in Class 5A. Franklin Regional knocked off then-No. 2 Mars, 52-51; Latrobe clipped new No. 2 Penn Hills, 57-56, as Kayla White hit a layup with 6.9 seconds left; and Penn-Trafford also dealt No. 2 Penn Hills a defeat, 42-38.

Only Franklin Regional’s win came on the road.

Ram tough

The Ligonier Valley boys (17-2) have secured a spot in the District 6 Class AAA Heritage Conference semifinals. The Rams will play a team to be determined at home on Tuesday. That night also will be the Rams’ senior night.

The winner advances to face the other semifinalist Feb. 8 at IUP for the championship.

Layups

Ligonier Valley standout senior center Marrek Paola, the Rams’ all-time leading scorer, will sign with Seton Hill on Friday. Paola has 1,690 career points. He leads Westmoreland County in scoring at 25 points a game. He also had interest from Mt. Aloysius, Sage (N.Y.), Ramapo (N.J.), Waynesburg, Grove City, Gannon and Pitt-Johnstown. … The Derry girls have scored as many points as they have allowed, 713. … The Southmoreland girls are 9-0 at home. … Norwin will have a Salute To Service Night Friday for its girls-boys doubleheader. The girls play Butler at 6 p.m. and the boys take on Latrobe at 7:30. Admission is free for all military personnel (I.D. required).

Bill Beckner is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bill at [email protected] or via Twitter @BillBeckner.