By Matt Popchock
Believe it or not, the end of January is fast-approaching, and for Mr. High School Sports and the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League, that means several things. It means All-Star Weekend is just days away, as is the annual Outdoor Charity Series--more on both events later--and it also means it's time to start thinking even more about the regular season stretch run and the playoff races that are underway in all four classifications. It's also time to recognize a couple players from playoff-bound South Hills programs who had huge nights for their respective teams in the past seven days. Here's what's been happening around the PIHL:
CLASS A, SECTION 3
South Fayette 6, South Park 3 @ Ice Castle
The second-longest active winning streak in Class A was extended to five games, to say nothing of an unbeaten streak that began with another victory over South Park back in December and went to seven games after this one. Although South Fayette still must wait their turn while Section 3 point percentage leader Serra Catholic catches up in its schedule, they now own the third-highest point total overall. Nick Schultz scored twice for the Lions (10-5-1) and added two assists to catapult himself into the Class A top ten with 29 points, and both Errey boys, Conor and Chad scored third-period goals. Billy Walker scored late in the second and in the final moments of regulation for the Eagles (3-9-0), who sit two points out of the last playoff spot.
(UPDATE: South Park has now lost three of four after getting shut out by Mars Monday, while South Fayette extended its win streak to six and its unbeaten streak to eight by beating Knoch Tuesday.)
CLASS AA, NON-SECTION
Latrobe 5, Elizabeth Forward 1 @ Rostraver Ice Garden
First ones there, last to leave...that's the way Latrobe has done business during its three-year reign as Pennsylvania Cup Class AA champions. No games have been played in PIHL Class AA entering this Thursday's slate since the Wildcats (7-4-1) extended their winning streak to five games and padded their lead in Section 4 with an easy victory over the Warriors (10-2-1) in Belle Vernon last week. Latrobe moved into a dead heat with Peters Township and one point behind Bishop Canevin for the top Penguins Cup Playoff seed. Zach LaDuke and Josh Singley each netted a goal and two assists, giving LaDuke 23 goals on the year and a Class AA-leading 40 points. Shane Brudnok lowered his GAA to 1.75 and kept PIHL Player of the Month Justin Delmaster off the scoresheet. Only Ireland Mooney scored to ruin his shutout bid. EF remains last in Section 3 but fifth in the overall standings.
OPEN CLASS, SECTION 4
Greensburg-Salem 7, Ligonier Valley 3 @ Kirk Nevin Arena
The battle for first place in Section 4 and, for that matter, the number three spot in the Chiefs Cup Playoff chase, is now a virtual tie between Salem and idle Kiski Area (though Kiski leads by point percentage) with this triumph. The Golden Lions (8-5-0) have won two in a row and have gone 6-2 in their last eight outings. Greensburg-Salem's Sean Beichner helped the home team storm out in front with a goal and a shorthanded assist in the first period, but he wasn't done there. Though he won't get credit for a natural hat trick, he did score three in a row in the third to break open a one-goal game, and he now sits second in the Open Class with 28 goals. Amazingly, this marks his fourth four-goal night in the past six games. Dace Ludwig scored his 17th of the year on the power play and contributed one assist for the Mounties (5-7-1), who have dropped three of four and remain third in the section, fifth in the Chiefs Cup standings.
CLASS AAA, NON-SECTION
Bethel Park 7, Butler 0 @ Ice Connection of Pittsburgh
The Hawks refuse to land, and they continue to be one of the hottest teams in the classification after Monday's shutout win up in Valencia. The win was their fourth in their last five games. One of the top defensive squads in Class AAA, Bethel Park needed only ten saves from backup goaltender Alex Blum to preserve the shutout and collect win number six in a row for the Black Hawks (8-3-2), who also prolonged what is now a seven-game unbeaten streak. They now sit five points behind Canon-McMillan in Section 1. Zach Volzer scored the only goal necessary late in the first period en route to a four-goal outburst, with the last three tallies all coming on special teams. The Golden Tornado (3-12-0) have now dropped six straight and are ahead of last-place Seneca Valley in Section 2 by only two points.
For continuing coverage of the PIHL and Penguins Cup Playoffs, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports throughout the 2010-11 season!
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