Sports reporters Lindsey Smith and Lizi Arbogast break down Franklin-Fulton chances in the first round of the PIAA basketball tournament. Video by Lizi Arbogast, GameTimePA.com
It's going to be a weekend of road trips for Franklin and Fulton basketball teams headed to the PIAA playoffs on Friday and Saturday.
First up is Friday's slate of Greencastle-Antrim boys, McConnellsburg girls and Southern Fulton boys.
The Blue Devils, who are in the midst of a nine-day layoff, have by far the heftiest travel schedule, as they head to Cheltenham, a suburb of Philadelphia, to take on Upper Merion, the No. 2 seed out of District 1.
Statistically speaking, Greencastle (18-9) looks like it should match up well in the PIAA Class 5A contest at 7:30 p.m. Upper Merion (18-11) averages about 56 points per game, whereas the Blue Devils average just over 60. Both teams also boast strong defenses.
But here's where G-A doesn't match up: Upper Merion has three players who are at least 6-foot-6. Matt Faw, a 6-8 senior, is committed to Holy Cross.
"I think our last two games have helped prepare us for this game, though," Blue Devil coach Rick Lewis said. "They both had a big Division I kid who was more of a 3-point shooter, but with Upper Merion, they have two 6-6 kids to back him up as well."
Greencastle's strength isn't in size, though. It's in numbers. All season, G-A has been confident in its five starters, Casey Hoover (13.3 points per game), Brandon Stuhler (11.7), Bryan Gembe (11.1), Ian Gelsinger (9.9) and Ben Freeman (7.8), to be able to make plays from every angle of the court.
"Because of our size challenge, we need everybody really, really engaged," Lewis said. "We win basketball games because we have five kids who can shoot and score and fundamentally do a really good job. The key when we play these sized teams is, can our pressure get to them? Can we hold our own rebounding? And we need to shoot the ball not just well, but really, really well."
Back to UPJ: The good thing for McConnellsburg's girls team is it's going to be familiar with its surroundings, and familiar with the feeling of winning at University of Pitt-Johnstown.
Coming off a victory in the District 5 Class 2A championship, the Spartans (17-7) are headed back to UPJ for a 6 p.m. first-round game with Greensburg Central Catholic.
"What we've got going for us was playing a game on this floor," McConnellsburg coach Brent Seville said. "We knew what the atmosphere was going to be like, and that was really the difference. Now we have a routine, and we're planning to have the same exact (schedule) this week. We're superstitious."
Seville said it was hard to track down information about Greensburg CC, but he knows they'll need to key in on Brittany Stawovy, a 1,000-point scorer.
"The highlight film that I have seen, she can shoot the lights out from 3 but also attack the rim," Seville said.
Meanwhile, the Centurions (18-6) will be expecting Bronwyne Mellott, who broke the Spartans' all-time scoring record last game. Other key players for McConnellsburg are McKenzie Gelvin (17.0 ppg), Kellyn Perry (7.1) and Justice Seville (7.0).
A solid matchup: Southern Fulton is used to drawing nearly-impossible opponents in the early rounds of the state playoffs, but on Friday at Hollidaysburg, the Indians will be on a seemingly-equal playing field with Williamsburg in a PIAA Class 1A first-rounder at 7:30 p.m.
"I think they're a much better team than their record (15-10) indicates," SF coach Kent Hendershot said. "After watching some film, they're pretty athletic and they get after it defensively. They have the capability to light it up."
The Indians (19-5) will be ready for a full-court press defense that boasts an average of 10.1 steals per game.
If the Blue Pirates are watching film, they'll be looking to key in on SF's Dylan Gordon, who averages a double-double. But Hendershot is hoping for a well-balanced performance, like the one the Indians put forth in their near-miss in the district championship.
"If you look at the last couple games, it's been more than Dylan," Hendershot said. "We have to take what other teams give us, and if they're not willing to respect Chase (Varner, 9.3 ppg) or Carl (Potter, 7.6 ppg) on the back side, we gotta make them pay for it. If we can find consistency with those guys, it also makes it tougher to key in on Dylan and that opens him up more."