Western Wayne boys are on the road to Hershey for the first time since 1993
When Western Wayne and Tunkhannock squared off in a non-league game back on December 18, it’s a safe bet neither team realized that they’d meet again two months later with a trip to Hershey on the line.
And yet that’s exactly what happened.
On Tuesday night, the Wildcats and Tigers laced ‘em up again at Scranton High School in a crucial District Two playoff game.
The winner of this Class 4A consolation contest would move on ... and the loser would go home.
As a big raucous crowd looked on, the local lads powered their way to a 53-39 win and earned a spot in the PIAA Championships.
This marks the first time since 1993 that a Western Wayne boys team has qualified for states.
“I couldn’t be prouder of this team,” an emotionally exhausted Coach Al Semenza said afterward.
“These kids have worked incredibly hard. They bought into what we’re teaching and now they’re going to Hershey.”
With the victory, Western Wayne improved its overall record to 14-11 on the season. The 'Cats are the third and final team to qualify for this year’s Class 4A tournament out of District Two.
Coach Semenza’s squad will hit the road next Saturday for its state opener versus the District Four champ, most likely either Danville or Shamokin.
“We’ve obviously got a lot of scouting to do between now and then,” said the veteran skipper with a chuckle.
“It’s looking like one of those two, but there are other scenarios too. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
When Western Wayne and Tunkhannock played back in December, the 'Cats raced out to a double digit lead, then cruised to an eventual 55-46 victory.
This time around, though, both teams had difficulty getting the offense going early on. Many thought this re-match might be decided in the low post where Zach Rovinsky and 6-8 Tigers center Avery Billings would battle on the boards.
However, that's not how it went down.
Rovinsky and Billings did indeed contribute key plays to the cause, but this one was ultimately decided in the backcourt.
Western Wayne trailed 9-8 after one period, but eked out a 19-17 halftime lead … and it was Dahlton Frisbie who led the charge.
A silky-smooth southpaw jump-shooter, Frisbie has been one of the area's top three-ball threats for the past four years. That trend continued Tuesday night against Tunkhannock.
Dahlton was locked in right from the start, dialing up one deep trey after another. His performance in Western Wayne's biggest game in decades earned Frisbie high marks from his skipper.
“Dahlton really stepped up for us tonight,” Coach Semenza said. “Every time the game got a little bit closer or we just needed a big basket, Dahlton came through. I can't say enough about how well he played.”
Frisbie would finish his night with a game-high 24 points. He drained six treys and enjoyed a perfect 4-for-4 stint at the foul line.
Western Wayne's lead was just 33-30 after three and Tunkhannock showed no signs of going away.
Even after the Wildcats went on an early fourth quarter run that widened the margin to 10, the Tigers kept clawing back.
Senior guard Tyler Faux paced a balanced attack with 14 points. Sophomore backcourt mate Ryan Harder chipped in with nine, while Billings added eight in the paint.
Tunkhannock pulled to within 40-36 with just under five minutes left in regulation. However, Frisbie rode to the rescue again, drilling back-to-back treys and suddenly Coach Semenza could breathe again at 46-36.
“I was definitely getting a little nervous,” he admitted. “I've been around this game too long to take anything for granted.”
Coach Semenza was very pleased with his team's defensive effort against Tunkhannock. He made special mention of Kobe Sauter, Zane Janiszewski and Rob Carey for their relentless efforts.
“Those guys left it all out there on the court,” he said. “They understood the game plan, and their roles, and they executed it perfectly.”
The Wildcats limited the Tigers to single digit scoring in three of four quarters. That included a 20-9 run down the stretch that iced the game.
“Defense was one of the big differences tonight,” he said. “And, this was a total team effort. Every kid we put in there gave us 100 percent and it showed.”
Rovinsky and Janiszewski closed out the contest with eight points apiece.
Thomas Chernasky tallied six, while Sauter added five and Carey wound up with two. Matt Henneforth and Alex Kuha also contributed key minutes to the cause.
Now, with the District Two tournament in their rearview mirror, the 'Cats can begin focusing on what lies ahead. They have some time to celebrate, then rest and recover before opening their PIAA gold medal quest on March 8.
For Al Semenza, who spent more than 30 years at Old Forge and Wyoming Area before coming to Western Wayne, Tuesday's win was very satisfying … even a little bit vindicating.
“It hasn't always been the smoothest ride,” he said. “There have definitely been some bumps in the road. But, this is what it's all about. This team has come a long way and I'm so happy for the kids.
“I'd also like to give a shout-out to my assistant coaches,” he added. “None of this would be possible without all of their hard work and I'm very grateful to them.”
Score by Quarters...
WW (14-11) 8 11 14 20 - 53
TNK (14-11) 9 8 13 9 - 39