Near the top of Moon’s wish list this season was winning a WPIAL championship.

And on Friday, not Santa, but rather Santicola, delivered the Tigers just that.

It was Christmas in March for No. 1 seed Moon, as Michael Santicola connected on a pair of 3-pointers just over a minute apart midway through the fourth quarter to break a tie and help the Tigers rally from 10 points down to defeat Franklin Regional, 53-48, in the WPIAL Class 5A championship at Petersen Events Center.

It was the first WPIAL title since 2017 and fifth overall for Moon (23-3), which won its 11th consecutive game. Franklin Regional (23-3) had its 12-game win streak snapped. The Panthers, who were appearing in their first final since 2018, fell to 0-4 in championship games all time.

“We have a good group of guys who believe in each other and trust each other. I’m just proud of them. When we needed to make shots, we did. So a lot of credit goes to our guys,” said second-year Moon coach Gino Palmosina, who guided Bishop Canevin to back-to-back WPIAL titles in 2021 and 2022 and a PIAA title in 2022.

Franklin Regional held the lead for most of the game and took its biggest advantage, 33-23, on Connor Crossey’s 3-pointer with 6:03 left in the third quarter. Moon battled back to cut its deficit to five points after three quarters before Donovan Turner made a 3-pointer and scored on a putback to pull the Tigers even at 42-42 with 6:19 left in the game.

With the score 44-44, Santicola began delivering. A 6-foot-5 junior forward, Santicola knocked down a 3-pointer with 4:55 remaining to give Moon its first lead since the Tigers led, 6-4. But Santicola wasn’t finished. He hit another 3-pointer, his third of the game, with 3:40 left to increase the Moon advantage to 50-44. 

“It felt amazing,” said Santicola, who missed the first five games of the season following an ankle injury suffered in a season-opening loss at WPIAL Class 4A champion Lincoln Park. “As soon as I saw the first one go in, I had full confidence to shoot another one. I was just trying to get more lift on my shot and try not to let that fatigue set in with the legs down the stretch. And just rep after rep in the gym. And then just seeing the first one go in and the second one go in, it just felt amazing at that stage, and I’m happy I could help my team out in that way.”

Franklin Regional worked its way back to within 51-48 courtesy of Cooper Rankin’s two free throws with 55 seconds left, but that’s the last the Panthers’ offense would be heard from. The fourth quarter was a miserable one for the Panthers, who were just 2 of 13 from the field and were outscored, 16-6.

Moon’s Michael Santicola came through in the clutch Friday, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to lift the Tigers to a 53-48 win against Franklin Regional for the team’s fifth WPIAL title. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Santicola scored a team-high 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for Moon, which also got 13 points from semifinal hero Aiden Reesman. Tigers star Elijah Guillory, a 6-5 senior guard and Youngstown State recruit, scored 39 points in the semifinal win against Thomas Jefferson, but was limited to 11 points Friday after being the heavy focus of Franklin Regional’s defense. Guillory scored seven of his points in the second half and finished 5 of 9 from the field.

“The plan was for us to compete as hard as possible and try to make every opportunity on the offensive end tough, whether it be Guillory or whether it be anybody else,” said third-year Franklin Regional coach Jesse Reed, a former standout player at Greensburg Central Catholic who lost in the WPIAL final his senior season in 2011. “I thought we did a great job guarding him for the majority of the game. We executed our game plan perfectly. Guys just hit shots at the end. It’s a make or miss game. If those miss, maybe it’s a different outcome.”

Franklin Regional’s Cooper Rankin scored a team-high 16 points, including his team’s first eight of the game, in Friday’s 53-48 loss to Moon in the WPIAL Class 5A championship at Petersen Events Center. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Cooper Rankin scored Franklin Regional’s first eight points of the game and finished with a game-high 16 on 7-of-19 shooting. Cam Rowell added 15 points for the Panthers, who finished 19 of 53 from the field (35%).

Moon was 22 of 38 from the field (57%), but committed 14 turnovers compared to just four by Franklin Regional. Moon won despite being held to its lowest point total since Hampton limited the Tigers to 52 while handing them their last loss on Jan. 20.

When Palmosina steered Bishop Canevin to a PIAA title two seasons ago, he danced in the locker room following the game.

There was no dancing after winning his third WPIAL title Friday, but that’s not to say there won’t be some a few weeks from now if the Tigers receive what is sitting at the very top of their wish list — a PIAA title.

Said Palmosina, “If we get to Hershey, I’ll dance up there.”

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

Brad Everett

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at