Monday, March 11, 2013

The Somerset County strut

A time once existed, not all that long ago, when the winter sports season was what separated football season from baseball season in Somerset County.

Sure, wrestling had a fervent following, and the slopes at Seven Springs and Hidden Valley were packed with locals weather permitting, but when it came to basketball, Somerset County wasn't exactly a hot spot.

OK, to be honest, with the exception of Windber's rich tradition and of a decent team every five years or so outside of Windber, it pretty much stunk when compared to the rest of Pennsylvania.

Hard to believe, but there was one brief period when Somerset County produced a small handful of highly successful teams.

In 1975, Rockwood lost to Darby in the PIAA Class A championship. In 1977, Shanksville-Stonycreek lost to Elk Lake in the Class A title game. In 1979, Conemaugh Township - with future Super Bowl winning quarterback Jeff Hostetler - lost to Pius X in the Class A championship.

Five years, three championship game appearances for Somerset County teams.

The trend of going one-and-done in the PIAA playoffs appears to be reversing for basketball teams from Somerset County, though not many have noticed.

"District 5 has repped itself the last five to six years," Shade boys' basketball coach Wade Fyock said after his Panthers dismantled WPIAL power North Catholic in the first round of  the PIAA Class A playoffs Friday night. "If you look at the record, we've had some success in the tournament and some success against District 7."

Fyock is particularly correct this year as teams from Somerset County went 4-1 in the first round of states. Count Conemaugh Township's victory in the play-in round of the PIAA Class AA boys' bracket and that record moves to 5-1.

The Conemaugh Township boys have defeated teams from District 8 and District 7 so far. Against Brentwood in the first round, the Indians put together a 15-3 first-half run.

"That was probably the bunch that early in the game that gave us some confidence," CT coach Chuck Lesko said. "We're a little unfamiliar with District 7 even though we played Beaver Falls last year. We know that they have strong competition."

Shade has won three PIAA playoff games since Fyock took over the program. The Conemaugh Township girls have advanced in the state tournament a second-consecutive season. Berlin just won its first PIAA game since Rachel Prosser became coach.

The results indicate District 5 is improving Who knows? Maybe the district's basketball image will start to change as well.

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