SLIPPERY ROCK — No matter how many rings you have, there’s nothing sweeter winning a championship.
And tougher than coming oh-so-close to winning one.
The Farrell High basketball team rallied from eight points down late in the third quarter to secure the program’s 20th district championship with a thrilling 48-46 victory over Region 2 rival Wilmington last night at Slippery Rock University’s Morrow Field House.
In the process, Farrell won District 10 championships in football and basketball in the same season for the third time in the same school year for the third time in school history (1951-52, 2008-09 and 2018-19).
“I’m so excited I don’t have any words,” Farrell coach Bobby Stewart said. “It feels so good to see the fruits of your labor come out there in the end.
“This is outstanding, because it’s history. Anytime you’re a part of history, you have to enjoy it. I tell the kids all the time ‘Go out there and make history.’ At the beginning of the season, we were like the Rodney Dangerfield of Region 2. We weren’t ranked anywhere. I kept telling the kids, one by one. Just go out there and win.”
Farrell (21-3) will play WPIAL fifth-seeded Shenango (11-13) at a site and time to be determined, in the opening round of the PIAA playoffs.
Despite the loss, Wilmington (16-8) still advances to the state tournament and draws District 9 third seed Keystone in the opening round of the state playoffs.
“I reminded the guys to keep their heads held high,” Wilmington coach Mike Jeckavitch said. “There’s a lot of teams that would love to be in our position ... still playing in March. We have to have fun with it and enjoy the ride. We just have to make the most of our opportunities.”
With the score knotted at 27 entering the second half, the Greyhounds embarked on a 9-2 run to open the third quarter and ultimately took a 41-33 lead on Shane Cox’s bucket late in the third quarter.
From there, it was all Farrell, which methodically chipped away on the deficit until Eric Hopson nailed a triple to hand the Steelers a 43-41 lead with just over 4 minutes to play.
“We played bad in the first half, but we were still right there in the ballgame,” Stewart said. “I told the kids that if we kept it close that we could still come back. We were able to get some momentum and started to do some things that we normally do. “
During that span, Wilmington couldn’t buy a bucket, missing on all six shots it attempted over the first 4:22 of the fourth quarter. Ultimately, the ’Hounds made just two field goals in the entire fourth quarter — with the final being a Danny Hanssen trey near the end of regulation.
“We couldn’t put the ball in the basket at the end,” Jeckavitch said.
“We had great looks and great opportunities. Several of them just rimmed out. Those are things you look back on and wish you could’ve made another basket … another free throw, but it’s one of those things.”
Farrell was having its own problems, seizing control of the game down the stretch as well.
After a pair of Robert Pontius freebies with 3:38 left knotted the score, neither team would score again until Hopson’s driving layup put the Steelers up for good at 45-43 two minutes later.
“There was no panic,” Stewart said. “We knew if we did what we normally do and do what we preach that we’d be the victors. We called it for (Hopson). We called 1-4 low, which gives him the opportunity to take his man one-on-one and he did. He finished for us.”
But the Steelers couldn’t put Wilmington away, missing four consecutive free throws in a 13-second span in the final 63 seconds, Kobe Hilton and Hopson were able to track down the rebounds to maintain possession for the Steelers. Reyonte Hammonds and Hopson combined to drill three free throws in less than a second to seal the win.
After being swept by Farrell during the regular season, the ’Hounds made a game of it the third time around.
“I thought we battled start to finish,” Jeckavitch said. “I’m very proud and blessed to see these guys give it 100 percent. We came out of halftime on fire. We made some shots and got some stops. Forty-eight points had to be one of Farrell’s lowest scores of the year. It just came down to execution on the offensive end of the floor.”
Tage Kelliher led Wilmington with 16 points and six rebounds, while Colton Richards lent 10 points and five boards before fouling out.
Corey J. Corbin writes for the Sharon Herald.