HERSHEY, Pa. — Franklin Regional rebounded from a 15-point deficit to pull within three points of mighty Imhotep Charter a few minutes into the final quarter of Friday’s PIAA Class 5A championship.

It seemed to be one of the few rebounds Franklin Regional grabbed the entire night.

Franklin Regional knew that beating its nationally-ranked opponent would be a tall task, and it was exactly that — height — which played a major role in Imhotep Charter capturing a 59-48 win at Giant Center.

In a battle of Panthers, Imhotep Charter (29-3) of the Philadelphia Public League remained perfect in PIAA championship games while claiming its sixth title in nine years and 10th overall. Ahmad Nowell, a physical point guard who has signed with Connecticut, scored a game-high 20 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter to help his team pull away late.

Franklin Regional’s Fin Hutchison knocked down a big 3-pointer in the fourth quarter to pull the Panthers within three points of nationally-ranked Imhotep Charter, but Imhotep pulled away late for a 59-48 win. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

As for the other Panthers, Franklin Regional (27-4) ended its special season with a loss after reaching the PIAA final for just the second time in school history and the first time in 27 years. The Panthers won 16 of their final 18 games, the only other loss coming to Moon in the WPIAL championship, a loss they avenged in the PIAA semifinals. Not bad for a team that lost its final 10 games last season when it didn’t even make the playoffs.

“Our guys kind of settled in and they took a punch,” Franklin Regional coach Jesse Reed said. “I’m so proud of the way we battled. That’s a team where we’re outmatched in size, we’re outmatched in athleticism, but we weren’t outmatched in heart. And that’s all I could ever ask for.  I mean, we’re going into the under-4 media timeout, and it’s a four-point game against the No. 1 team in the state, a top 30 team in the country. These dudes never cease to amaze me. It’s incredible.”

Playing against a team ranked No. 21 in the country by USA Today, Franklin Regional trailed, 33-21, at the half, a deficit that grew to 15 points midway through the third quarter. Imhotep held a 41-28 lead late in the third before Franklin Regional went on a 10-0 run to pull within 41-38 on Fin Hutchison’s 3-pointer with 6:36 left in the fourth. The score stood at 44-40 when Nowell took over by scoring Imhotep’s next five points to increase the lead to nine points with 3:54 left, and Franklin Regional was unable to get closer than seven the rest of the game.

“He’s pretty tough,” Franklin Regional point guard Cooper Rankin said of the physical Nowell, ranked by Rivals as one of the top 40 seniors in the country. “He’s not super fast, but he’s shifty with the ball and he can make almost everything he shoots.”

One of Franklin Regional’s four senior starters, Cam Rowell scored a team-high 15 points in the Panthers’ 59-48 loss to Imhotep Charter in Friday’s PIAA Class 5A championship. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

But for the majority of the game, it wasn’t Nowell, but rather Imhotep’s height, which gave Franklin Regional its biggest problems. As Reed said, it’s not something they could mimic in preparation for the game. Franklin Regional has only one regular (6-foot-5 Cam Rowell) taller than 6-1, while super-sized Imhotep countered with 6-8 Zion Green, 6-7 Ma’Kye Taylor and 6-6 Jeremiah White. That size allowed Imhotep to hold a 36-22 edge in rebounding, including a 17-4 difference in offensive rebounds. Taylor, an Albany recruit, finished with 14 points and nine rebounds, seven coming on the offensive end. White added seven rebounds, including five offensive.

“Driving in, you’ve got three kids down there, 6-6, 6-7, 6-8. It makes a difference,” Rankin said. “Looking at it, you might say you can kick it out and make a 3 or something like that. But the length with them was just a big factor in the game.”

Rowell scored 15 points to lead Franklin Regional, which shot 19 of 43 from the field (44%) and 3 of 8 from 3-point range (37%). Hutchison added nine points and Colin Masten eight. Those three, along with Rankin, were senior starters for the Panthers, who came up just short in a game few likely thought they would still be in by the fourth quarter.

“The fact that these guys battled and had a team like that on the ropes in the fourth, I couldn’t ask for more,” Reed said. “You tell me before the game that we got within four with four minutes left, I’ll sign up for that any day of the week. I’m rocking with these dudes every single time.”

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

Brad Everett

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