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The SportsTalk Shop: HS Hoops Playoff Primer

February 9, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

The Pennsylvania high school boys basketball playoffs have begun, with tons of talented teams ready to square off against each other over the next five weeks.

As we begin the road to state gold in Hershey, here are notes and highlights on some of the 4A teams that I’ve covered this winter for RCN Sports, along with a few predictions on what we might be able to expect from these teams this post-season.

We’ve spend a few blog entries talking about just how good this year’s Trojan team is, and they have not disappointed, entering the playoffs with an undefeated EPC record. Quite frankly, Parkland was rarely tested in any of their league games and appeared to “turn on the switch” whenever they wanted to, to put games away and win contests by significant margins.

One aspect of the team that we have not addressed in previous blog entries is the Parkland “role” players.  Jack Dreisbach, Kenny Yeboah, Justin Jones and Kevin Dulorie are four players who haven’t gotten much attention in the media this basketball season.  Yet, when opponents try to stop some of the other top players, these four guys have stepped up and led the team to sound wins.  Dreisbach recently scored in double figures when Nazareth tried to double-down on other players.  Yeboah is a force in the paint, averaging seven points and nine rebounds per game.  Jones recently fueled a “put-away” run with seven points in limited action against a very good Emmaus team. Dulorie is a player with moves that would probably make him the go-to-guy if he was on at least half of the other teams’ rosters in the Lehigh Valley area.

It’ll be hard enough for many of the Trojans’ upcoming opponents to try to contain Kyle Stout, Sam Iorio, and DeVante Cross…but when these role players step up, as they have been doing of late, it might just be the icing on Parkland’s cake for a serious run in the state playoffs.

The Hurricanes are probably one of two teams in the Lehigh Valley that have a legitimate shot at beating the Trojans on a given night.  Armed with an outstanding coaching staff, they have great balance  led by senior wingman Ludwin Gonzalez, and have the depth enabling them to attempt to beat Parkland with an up-tempo game.  They have an outstanding–and incredibly young–backcourt that would make for an exciting challenge for Cross to deal with.  Through no fault of their own, they haven’t been as battle-tested against the elite squads as other teams, thanks to their placement in the “Steel” division and the random selection of their non-division opponents.   However, they’ve proven themselves with dramatic victories over Allen, Freedom and Becahi, to name a few.

The Canaries might be the most athletic team in the area–period.  Although they didn’t face Parkland or Central Catholic, they have recorded more than their share of big wins.  They’ve also lost to Liberty twice, plus Nazareth and a few other teams that don’t have Allen’s solid winning percentage.  They have several scoring options in guards Bryson Walton, Koi Kostic and Talek Williams and from big men Isiah Hinton Gray, Jamiere Myers and Naequan Feliciano.  I don’t know if they have the consistency to be considered the leading candidates to win a league or district title.  That being said, they have the personnel to do it.  If they can channel the way I saw them play in the summer leagues, the Canaries might just win a winter title after all.

I have not seen the Rovers in person, but watching them on RCN On-Demand made me think they can definitely win a few playoff games.  They enter the post-season as one of the hottest teams in the EPC.  Following their loss to Wilson in the Rotary Classic over the Christmas holidays, many thought Easton would have trouble making the District XI playoffs, let alone the league’s.  The Rovers have very good balance and nice size up front.  If they can continue the momentum they maintained in January, I think the die-hard Easton fans will be happy with their team in the playoffs.

Besides Parkland, no team played better on their home court than the Zephyrs.  They provided just enough offense and showcased a very impressive “match-up” defense to qualify for both the league and district post-season. Brett Radocha is the team’s only player scoring in double figures and Mikey Esquilin is one of the most exciting freshmen in Eastern Pennsylvania this winter.  However, Whitehall didn’t finish the season as strongly as many fans of the maroon-and-gold would have liked, and the Zephs never did seem to have the level of success away from the newly christened “Coach Tracy Court.”  On the positive side, they recorded very impressive wins over Liberty and Emmaus and will need similar efforts to have playoff success.

The Hornets’ non-conference schedule might have been one of the most challenging of any team in the state.  The hope was that the high quality of competition they faced–and their wins in a few of them–would help Emmaus when they came home to play EPC teams.  They’ve had to withstand injuries to their top two players–twin brothers David and Matt Kachelries–who have both returned and picked up right where they were last season.  Junior center Joe Polczyski is one of the more underrated players in the league, but Emmaus fell short in several big divisional games in the season’s second half.  Head Coach Steve Yoder has done a remarkable job of rebuilding this program, I think, and his bench might be as deep as any in District XI.  I personally have yet to see the consistency in this team to put them in the “favorites” category to win a championship–this year, anyway.  I do think the team’s winning ways will continue even if they don’t win a title this season.

Both of these teams’ head coaches, Joe Arndt and Coy Stampone, are two of the nicest guys in the area.  Both the Eagles and the K-Kids posted several big wins during the season.  Northampton is the “feel good” story of the winter with their dramatic turnaround from a sub-.500 season last year.  They could use their disappointment of missing out on the league playoffs (the “power point tiebreaker” kept them out of the playoffs by a couple one-thousands of a percentage point) to use as motivation in districts.  Nazareth defeated Northampton twice during the regular season and scored an impressive win over Allen as one of their highlights during the season.  Nazareth and Northampton both played a thrilling game against each other in the regular season finale and both teams could come back stronger than ever in 2016.  I don’t know if either team will have the firepower to contend this season, but they should be very proud of how well they played and how far they’ve come this winter.

Basketball fans may not realize that the Spartans are a 4A team this year, but the way they finished the regular season (wins over Saucon and Salisbury) has certainly given them a ton of momentum heading into the playoffs.  Currently, Southern Lehigh is ranked at the very bottom of the District XI standings, meaning they could face the toughest competition in the playoffs.  However, a Colonial League title win later this week would boost them up to a #2 seed and keep them away from facing Parkland as long as possible.  I like the job that Ben Tannous has done in just his second year, and he told me a few weeks ago that he would not count this season as a “success” until they posted wins over elite teams.  I think with their recent wins that they now have achieved that level and feel that there will be many more reasons to cheer this team going forward.

What are your thoughts on the top EPC teams and which players will shine during the league playoff season?  Join RCN Sports Director Gary Laubach, Joe Craig and myself on this Thursday’s “RCN SportsTalk” show live from 6-7 pm as we preview the EPC and Colonial League girls and boys championship series and preview the next round of the playoffs for all classifications within the RCN viewing area.

The SportsTalk Shop: Three Wrestling Season Surprises

February 4, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

While many things unfolded the way most Lehigh Valley HS wrestling experts thought the season would, there were still several big surprises during this year’s District XI team wrestling season.  Here are a few of the highlights:

Becahi’s Level of Dominance
The fact that the Golden Hawks ran through its 3A district competitors in this, its first year moving up from being a “Class 2-A”  team, is not really a surprise.  They have been scoring victories over many local wrestlers from larger schools for some time during their competition in the now-defunct Lehigh Valley Conference.  What was shocking was by HOW MUCH Becahi beat up on other Lehigh Valley powers Easton, Parkland, Nazareth & company.  Here’s a look at three of their biggest wins over conference opponents—all by healthy margins – this winter.

Expect the Hawks’ success to continue in the state tournament this weekend and once the “individual” playoffs get underway in a few weeks.

Freedom’s Amazing Season
Last year we had Patriots’ Head Coach Brandon Hall on our “RCN SportsTalk” show and he told us some great stories about what he, his coaches and players have had to overcome in trying to build up the program —a task especially difficult with the high level of competition in the Lehigh Valley.  His team took the next step in a big way—entering the playoffs with an amazing 24-0 record and an impressive win in the “American” Division of the highly competitive Virginia Duals tournament.  Freedom’s next step will be to continue this high level of success for the next few years against the powerhouse teams in the Eastern Pennsylvania region.  However, you have to give a huge congratulations to Coach Hall and his team for all of their success this year—and putting together a season that no one outside of the northern half of Bethlehem saw coming.

Aside from any match involving Becahi, Freedom and most of the other teams in the newly formed Eastern Pennsylvania Conference made for entertaining team competition this winter.  Here are a few of the best matches, including this past weekend’s “Ultimate Qualifier”:

Northern Lehigh’s 2A Championship
Becahi no longer competing in the 2A bracket left a wide-open district tournament for some team to come up and win this year’s crown—a title the Hawks have dominated over the last few seasons.  Saucon Valley headed a field of impressive smaller schools that had multiple talented wrestlers this season.  Head Coach Chad Spirk has done an amazing job over his career of building his program—which sometimes in the past was overshadowed by other teams’ performances from the LVC.  However, it was Northern Lehigh’s Steve Hluschak and his Bulldogs that pulled off the win over the Colonial League Champion Panthers to advance into this weekend’s PIAA tourney as the #1 2A representative from District XI.  Northern Lehigh was one of several teams that made for a great season, along with Northwestern, Notre Dame and Bangor.  Most of these head coaches were on “SportsTalk” recently—you can hear more about their teams and their thoughts on local wrestling by watching the show for free through RCN On-Demand.

Speaking of “SportsTalk,” this Thursday (Feb. 5th) at 6pm, we’ll have our “Ultimate” wrestling panel with local legends Gene Waas and Sam Burgio joining Jack Logic, Joe Craig and myself as we preview this weekend’s State Finals, the upcoming District XI Individual Wrestling Tournament and give our thoughts on some controversial decisions that were made in terms of forming the new playoff system.  We’ll also have wrestling experts Brad Wilson and Scott Barr on our February 19th live show to preview RCN’s coverage of that weekend’s “Individuals Championships” and also give their takes on local wrestling issues.

We’d love to hear your comments & questions about Lehigh Valley HS wrestling!  Who stood out in your mind as the top individual wrestlers…and which other team’s exceeded expectations?  Email us at and we’ll read and respond to your emails on our upcoming live shows!


The SportsTalk Shop: College Basketball Updates

January 27, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

In the last several blog entries, we’ve examined a plethora of winter sports news in the RCN-TV coverage areas dealing with professional and scholastic sports.  This week, I’d like to highlight some exciting accomplishments among the collegiate teams in action right now.

First, I had a chance to talk with American University’s Head Basketball Coach Mike Brennan about a series of standout moments in his current season—from several last-second, game-winning contests, both in and out of the Patriot League, to his team meeting baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. as well as other highlights in his current season.

Some of American’s highlights this year include Pee Wee Gardner scoring two last second, game-winning baskets in consecutive games.  Gardner’s late-game heroics earned him Patriot League Player of the Week honors this past week.   The Eagles also posted several non-conference wins including an overtime defeat against La Salle, and nearly beating my alma mater, Temple, in its opening game of the season.  It won’t be an easy week as the defending Patriot League champ has to play four of its next five games on the road, including tough ones against Navy,  Holy Cross, and the team currently in first place in the league, Colgate.   The Raiders jumped out to their best start in decades this season and have been very tough playing at home this winter.

Currently Brennan’s squad finds itself just one game out of first place, and just ahead of two other teams in our viewing area, Lehigh and Lafayette.  Speaking of the Mountain Hawks and Leopards, they also have some impressive wins this year.  Lafayette has posted wins against Princeton, Penn, NJIT, Loyola Maryland and Boston—a team that lost to American in last year’s league championship.  Lehigh barely squeaked by the Leopards when the two teams met last weekend and has tough opponents coming up against Bucknell and Army over the next week.

On the women’s side, Lafayette’s Emily Homan was recently selected as one of 30 women’s basketball candidates for the Senior CLASS Award. The senior forward leads the Leopards and is second in the Patriot League in scoring, averaging nearly 18 points per game.  Lehigh’s Kerry Kinek, who had an outstanding scholastic career at Allentown Central Catholic, continues to have an outstanding junior campaign, and is among her team’s leaders in points, three-points, blocks, three-point and free throw shooting percentages and rebounding.

I had the tremendous honor of watching another player in high school, Darrun Hilliard, who continues to lead a Villanova team that’s currently ranked fourth in the nation.  Hilliard leads the team in points and three-pointers and is second in a bunch of other statistical categories.  Nova is coming off a tough loss to another team in the RCN viewing area, Georgetown, 78-58.  The win puts the Hoyas one win ahead of the Wildcats in the Big East Standings, and should make for an interesting rematch when the two teams square off against each other once again in early February in Philadelphia.

Kara Bonenberger, another outstanding athlete RCN viewers had a chance to see play at Northampton HS, has gone on to a stellar career at Penn (currently 9-5 in the Ivy League).  She’s been part of an “Iron-5” that has started every game so far this year and is among her team’s leaders in points, rebounds and field goal percentage.  Bonenberger, a senior co-captain who has earned many rewards during her collegiate career, leads a team that’s looking to defend its Ivy League title.  Penn’s recent highlights include wins over Temple, NJIT and Richmond but still have more than half its league schedule still to play.

Other Big 5 notes include my Owls pulling off a big win against a Kansas team ranked tenth in the nation at the time they played.  Following three consecutive league losses, Temple has bounced back with a win over USF and has several big contests coming up over the next several weeks if they want to improve their seeding for the American Conference playoffs.  The Owls will face all the teams currently in front of them in the standings, with UConn and Cincinnati coming to the Liacouras Center and Temple having to travel to play SMU and Memphis on the road.

St. Joe’s and LaSalle have struggled to stay above .500 and find themselves several games back of the top spot in the Atlantic-10.  However, another team in our area, George Washington, has jumped out to an amazing start and finds itself with just one league loss entering a big ball game against VCU.   The Colonials are led by Patricio Garino, Kethan Savage and Kevin Larsen—all scoring in double figures for GW this season.

What other college teams in the RCN-TV viewing area would you like to see us highlight here on the “SportsTalk Shop” or on our live Thursday night “SportsTalk” show?  Which players in our coverage area deserve some extra mention or should receive a shout-out?  We always welcome your comments, suggestions and opinions!  Email us at any time at and check back for more updates on teams and athletes in the RCN viewing area!

The SportsTalk Shop: HS Basketball Mid-Season Report

January 19, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

As we reach the midpoint in the Lehigh Valley high school winter sports season, it continues to be an interesting season for local boys basketball.  While we have had quite a few close ball games, with a handful going into overtime, a look at the different league standings shows there are a few teams doing very well, and even more teams a couple steps behind–finding themselves battling each other for the remaining playoff berths.

The biggest “non-surprise” is the Parkland boys basketball team, as they continue to dominate everyone they’ve faced in the area.  Even against an Easton team that was coming off a big win, the Trojans eventually wore them down and won the game easily.

DeVante Cross is a player who we talked quite a bit about during the football season, but I have really been impressed by what he has done so far on the hardwood.  The Trojans have more than enough firepower to go around, but I think Cross’s improved play has made for an even more well-rounded ball club that will look to go deep into the PIAA playoffs.

While Parkland has been the area’s best team and has already clinched both an EPC and District XI 4A playoff spot, the Rovers are a team that has been playing well of late.  Easton currently finds themselves a couple games below .500 and are making a push for a post-season spot, following a big win recently over Freedom HS.

Three other teams that I have seen playing well and figure to be in the running for both league and district playoff action include Whitehall, Emmaus and Allen.  The Zephyrs have been playing extremely well after a slow start and have won seven of their last nine games.  While they haven’t been posting explosive offensive numbers, it has been their defense—in particular, the match-up zone defense—that has been very impressive.  Whitehall  held a Liberty team—a squad I feel is as athletic as any in the area—to under 50 points last week.  The Zephyrs did the same to an Emmaus team that has been playing some of the toughest teams from both Pennsylvania and New York in its non-conference schedule.

Speaking of Emmaus, there aren’t many teams that can boast as deep a bench as Steve Yoder’s ballclub, and they can beat you a number of ways.  They’ve had some injury issues to overcome, which, combined with their tough out-of-league schedule, has delayed their clinching of a playoff berth until this point.  But once in the playoffs, they are definitely a team that figures to win a few playoff games.

Allen is another team that has been playing extremely well overall.  It’s unfortunate that the new league schedule does  not feature the Canaries playing some of their traditional basketball rivals—at least for this season.  It is entirely possible they will get a chance to face Parkland and Central Catholic once the  post-season begins.  Allen has clinched a district playoff spot and looked impressive in its recent ball game against Bethlehem Catholic.

Perhaps the story of the EPC this year has been the play of Northampton—a team that had struggled in recent years, but has looked phenomenal in nearly every game they’ve played.  They play in the same division as Parkland, Whitehall, Emmaus, Central Catholic and Nazareth and have done more than hold their own, including posting a strong win recently against Dieruff.

Northampton Head Coach Coy Stampone will be one of several local head basketball coaches who will be on our “RCN SportsTalk” show on Thursday, January 29th from 6-7 pm.  I’m looking forward to speaking with Coach Stampone and getting his thoughts on how he has turned the program around, and what his team’s expectations are for the remainder of the season.

Looking ahead to the first ever Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, the playoffs will feature eight teams vying for their post-season positions.  The eight teams will consist of the three division winners (from the “Mountain,” “Skyline” and “Steel” divisions) and five wild card spots.  Many assume that the five “Skyline” teams not named Parkland will occupy most, if not all, of those wild card spots.  Keep in mind that all those teams will play each other over the next few weeks, so if any one of those teams in the Skyline division go into a funk and lose several in a row, it would open up spots for a couple teams from the other divisions to sneak up and advance to the league playoffs.

One final EPC note about the Vikings—while they may not be the favorite this year in 3A because of the quality play so far by Pottsville, don’t count out Central Catholic from making another district playoff run.  Despite many several quality opponents in their classification, the Vikings have a lot of pride on the line and are looking to win their fifth straight 3A Title and eighth over the last ten seasons.
* * *
In the Colonial League, there are several teams that have continued to play outstanding basketball.  Salisbury has stayed right with the top teams (the others being Bangor, Saucon Valley & Southern Lehigh) and has played a strong non-league schedule once again this winter.

The wild card team—both physically and figuratively–in the Colonial League might be Wilson.  The Warriors ost to Pen Argyl, a team that lost to a struggling Northern Lehigh program and will probably not make the postseason.  They’ve also had some games in which they have struggled shooting from the floor and from the free throw line.  However, Wilson has also posted a number of huge wins,  among them an overtime victory over their rivals from Notre Dame-Green Pond and also played one of its best games of the season against Catasauqua.

Remember, the Colonial League has six berths for its playoffs this year, as opposed to just four teams advancing as in years past.  This could be huge for a team like Wilson, Palisades, Notre Dame or even Northwestern.  In previous years, it would appear to be a lock at this point that the Slaters, Falcons, Panthers and Spartans would be the only teams in the league playoffs.  But with the expansion of two more teams, it’ll make for a very entertaining race over the next few weeks to determine which other teams will qualify for the league playoffs.

Another thing to remember is that the league winners will automatically get top berths for the District XI playoffs.  So if a team that has been struggling during the first half of the year can get hot with a succession of victories over the next few weeks, they can receive a huge bump when it comes to District XI post-season seedings (see Notre Dame last winter).

Which teams have impressed you so far this season and what games have resulted in the biggest surprises?  Send us an email to and join us on Thursday evenings as we read and respond to your sports questions and opinions on each program.

The SportsTalk Shop: Redskins, Eagles, Nationals & Phillies Off-Season

January 12, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

It certainly has been an interesting few weeks for these four pro teams in the RCN viewing area—all for different reasons.  The Nationals are heading into, what I believe, is a very critical season for them sustaining their long-term success.  The Redskins are trying to figure out how everything went tragically wrong in 2014 and how to rebound as quickly as possible.  The Phillies are starting a rebuilding process that—if it doesn’t gain traction over the next several months—could produce massive changes to their long-time front office personnel.  And the Eagles…well, even the most seasoned beat writers are still trying to figure out just exactly what happened over the last month, and whether the off-season moves they’ve made so far will make the team dramatically better—or worse.

First, here are some thoughts on all four teams as discussed by a panel of media pundits.

Now, a little more now on the Nationals.  I, too, see 2015 as a huge year for Washington.  They clearly are the best team in the National League East and should have no trouble holding off any “surpassing expectations” type of season the Marlins or Mets might have.  Washington is very similar to what the Phillies were as they were entering their 2008 season, with their core reaching the prime of their careers—and several players about to begin their “contract year”.  In my opinion, the Nats MUST get to the World Series this season.  I’ll explain why in a moment, but first, here are three things that have to happen for the Nats to have success this year.

 1) “Go To” Players Must Step Up

It’s time for the big-money guys to do what they get paid for—win.  It’s not enough to put up big individual numbers.  It’s not enough to say the right things in the media. The “go to” guys have to take it to another level and make the players around them better.  Jayson Werth, a player who has experience doing that with the Phillies, will have to make a successful recovery from his arthroscopic shoulder surgery this week.  He won’t be ready by the start of spring training, but needs to be ready to play by mid-April.  The old adage of “you can’t win a pennant in April but you certainly can lose one” applies.  Highly touted prospect Michael Taylor will probably be patrolling Werth’s left field spot (remember, he’s switching positions with Bryce Harper this season) for a good chunk of spring training.  While I’m very high on Taylor and feel he can be an everyday Major League outfielder at some point, it’s extremely risky to rely on a minor leaguer—no matter how high their pedigree—for anything in a season as critical as this one…which brings us to topic #2…

 2)  Stay Aggressive Adding Role Players.

Signing these guys are not flashy moves.  Some of these acquisitions won’t even register on national sports news programs.  But these types of moves are what help win championships.  Sticking with our parallels to the ’08 Phillies, imagine that team without the following moves:  Pat Gillick taking a chance on Werth as a ‘complement’ to Geoff Jenkins in RF; not having J.C. Romero anchoring the 7th/8th innings; not having Matt Stairs available to pinch hit…

Injuries will occur.  Players will go into slumps.  The Nationals have already added some nice pieces over the last year (and a gritty player like Kevin Frandsen last year was a great example).  However, I’m not expecting much out of Dan Uggla, and continuing to search for diamonds-in-the-rough will be even more imperative as 2015 unfolds.  GM Mike Rizzo must continue to look for even the slightest moves that can improve his team.  The organization must continue to add depth and leave nothing to chance this season.

3) Sign Desmond NOW!

Ian Desmond is one of the best shortstops in the game.  The Nats will have many questions heading into the offseason, resigning free agents-to be that are currently on the roster, regardless of how the team does this season.  The last thing this year’s team needs is added distractions.  You clearly must bring him back for next season, and entering spring training with his future in limbo opens the door for speculation and puts doubt into the minds of other players about the future of the team.  I mentioned earlier how important it is to get off to a quality start.  You don’t want one issue snowballing into an avalanche of ambiguity.  There is no question that Desmond should be the one guy you bring back for next year, and to go into March with him NOT signing a long-term deal would be a colossal mistake.

The Phillies were able to build on what they established in 2007 to capture a World Championship.  A failure by Washington to at least get beyond the NLDS would signal a lateral progression…or worse, a regressive atmosphere around the organization.  This isn’t the type of feeling you want to have lingering as you try to re-sign as many of the current, productive Nationals players as you may need after this season.  Hard decisions will have to be made on both sides, and those decisions get tougher for all involved if there are questions about the direction of the franchise.

Philadelphia—now—is in a full-blown rebuilding process, and many more things need to be done.  It will certainly not be easy to accomplish those things (moving Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon, et al).  While I actually think they have made some good moves—so far—this winter, I’ll wait to talk about them more in detail until we see more of their off-season work.  The Phillies now have the luxury of time to let their plan develop…the element of time is exactly what the Nationals could soon be running out of.

What are your thoughts on the four pro sports teams mentions?  Who makes the biggest noise this offseason and what moves do you see happening?  Email your comments to and keep checking back to the RCN-TV website as we’ll continue to follow these teams’ storylines and in the coming weeks will have more programs on these franchises on ‘RCN SportsTalk’ (live, Thursdays at 6pm

The SportsTalk Shop: 3 HS Hoops Notes

January 6, 2015 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

We’re about a month into this winter’s high school basketball season in the Lehigh Valley area.  As we embark on the “January” portion of the scholastic schedule, here are three observations of the new hoops season that I feel deserve some extra mention.

1.  Parkland’s extremely good, but…

I’ve been privileged to be surrounded by great minds in many different sports and try to defer to the local sports experts when formulating opinions on who the top teams are expected to be.  It’s for that reason that I rarely see a team play summer league basketball in July and can make “stone-cold” predictions about something that happens in February.  I broke my own rule this past summer when I saw the Parkland boys basketball team dominate in a variety of summer hoops tournaments, and said soon after on “SportsTalk” that I felt the Trojans were unquestionably the team to beat for league and district honors.  I felt good about my statement when I heard much smarter basketball minds proclaiming similar expectations as we got closer to the winter sports season–some even believing Parkland could go undefeated during the regular season.

This year’s Trojans’ team reminds me of the Emmaus boys team led by Aaron Grey, who would go on to play in the NBA.  They blitzed through the league playoffs and entered the District XI playoffs with a 28-0 record.  Their season came to a sudden and amazingly fast conclusion when they lost in the first round of the district playoffs.  This year’s Parkland team, albeit without the size of a Grey-type of player, might actually be deeper than that Emmaus team.  Clearly they continue to be the favorite in this area–there aren’t many Lehigh Valley teams that can play with them.  However, I do believe there are a few teams that could step up and cause Parkland trouble on a given night.

Here’s some of the highlights of several “other” top EPC teams playing during the first month of the season…

2.  A “somewhat” bizarre Colonial League start.

For what it’s worth, the current Colonial League standings are very close to my best guesses to the correct order of the standings.  But what has surprised me is some of the individual game results so far this season.  For example, I thought Bangor would be the number-one team in their division, but Bron Holland’s team has once again raised the bar again this season.  In the past, the Slaters would build a quality team for several years…peak for one or two years…then return to “rebuilding mode” for several more seasons.  But lately, Bangor seems to bounce back despite losing talent to graduation and surpass expectations.  They posted dominating wins over the first few weeks of the season, with many different players stepping up, while playing “lights-out” defense in most of their ball games.

In addition to Bangor, Saucon Valley, Salisbury and Southern Lehigh are also teams jumping out to solid starts.  However, that has not kept other teams from challenging the league’s top squads, as Wilson proved by just falling short in their attempt to beat the Slaters and Panthers before Christmas, and then capturing the annual Easton Rotary Championship just before New Year’s Eve.  Also, common opponents results have not been very revealing.  A repeating trend has team “A” beating team “B” soundly one night, only to lose to team “C” (a team that previously lost to team “B”).  It has made for a very entertaining first month to the season, although clearly the best game that I have seen so far this year is Saucon Valley/Notre Dame’s overtime battle, as seen on RCN-TV (available for free through RCN On-Demand).

Here are some of the highlights from that game.

3. Catty’s Changing Guard.

I thought it was a tremendous decision for Catasauqua to name Dave Troxell as their new athletic director this fall.  The only disappointing aspect about the move was that I would no longer see Dave coaching a girls basketball program that featured some of the school’s greatest athletic moments with him at the helm.  While the program struggled after his first departure from the team a few years back, I was confident that it would return to glory with him in charge.  With his promotion, I felt there were very few people reasonably able of taking over that position who could lead the team’s rebuilding efforts as swiftly as if Coach Trox himself were in charge.  I was happy to see one of those people, Ed Seidick, was chosen as their new head coach.  Ed is a Lehigh Valley guy who’s been a part of one of the top girls’ programs in the area, working under the tutelage of Jeff Jacksits.  He’s worked with some of the top female basketball athletes over the last several seasons, and the Northampton basketball program has been a constant contender at the 4A level for many years.

While the team may not be at playoff-level this year, I am confident it won’t be too long before we see the Rough Riders girls team back in the playoff picture.

What observations have you made about the 2014-15 edition of high school basketball in the Lehigh Valley area?  Which teams and players have stuck out in your mind so far?  Email your      comments to and join Toomey Anderson, Tom Stoudt, Joe Craig and myself as we look at the first half of the basketball season and preview the second half on the January 15th edition of “RCN SportsTalk” (live at 6pm on RCN-TV).


The SportsTalk Shop: 2014 Year-in-Review (Part 2)

December 29, 2014 By Matt Kennedy Leave a Comment

A very merry season’s greetings and happy new year to everyone!  Chris Michael is on vacation for the next week, so “RCN SportsTalk” co-host Joseph Lynnwood Craig will be manning the “SportsTalk Shop” around the holidays.  Joe gives his weekly views on the Thursday night show and this time, he gives his views on some local high school sports issues over the past year.  Don’t forget, you can get more views and opinions on the top teams, players, games, moments and other special highlights over the past 12 months by watching the “SportsTalk: 2014 Year-in-Review” program that will air on RCN-TV several times before and after New Year’s Day and is also available to watch at anytime for free on RCN On-Demand!

Now, here’s “Joe’s Take” on local championship teams and other outstanding programs in the Lehigh Valley area.

As 2014 comes to a close, a few observations about high school championships seem to be in order.  Keep in mind that last school year’s winter and spring seasons combine with the fall season of this school year to form the 2014 lineup.
First of all, 22 high schools in District XI have won team championships in the year 2014.  There have been 52 champions crowned in 21 sports; 10 boys sports, 10 girls sports and one co-ed sport (golf).
Parkland has overwhelmingly crowned the most champions with 11.  The following list contains the schools with the number of team champions from each school:

Parkland – 11                          Allentown CC – 2                Mahanoy – 1                Pius X – 1
Beth. Cath. – 5                        Notre Dame G.P – 2           Salisbury – 1                Saucon – 1
Emmaus – 4                             Minersville – 2                    Nazareth – 1                 Whitehall – 1
Southern Lehigh – 4              Marion Cath. – 2               Tamaqua – 1                Pine Grove – 1
Moravian Acad. – 4               Easton – 2                            Sch. Haven – 1
Northwestern – 3                  Notre Dame ES – 2             Pen Argyl – 1

A person would wonder how does one school win so many championships as Parkland has?   Surely the athletes are not any bigger, stronger, faster, or more skilled than their counterparts at other schools.  I’m sure that they eat similar foods, drink similar water, dress the same way and enjoy the same activities as any other teenagers. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I suspect it has a lot to do with off-season preparation, camps, and facilities available to them, along with the community support that is provided in feeder programs across the board. Whatever it is, the other schools and communities better take note.  They all need to step up if they want to compete with Parkland.

Another comment would be to notice the number of championships that a small school like Moravian Academy has won.  They’ve won four championships while many other schools have won none.  That’s amazing when you think about it.  Granted they have won in small school classifications but in three of their titles they beat many schools in the AA classification.  Those sports were Boys Tennis, Golf, and Girls Tennis.  They also won in A classification Boys Soccer.  By the way, they were the champs in that category.  I think that is noteworthy.

There have been some great teams from District XI this past year, so here are a few that come to mind.  The following teams have won State championships this past year: Bethlehem Catholic in wrestling (AA), Parkland Girls Volleyball (AA), and Moravian Academy Boys Soccer (AA).  There will be a lot of discussion in local media over the next  few weeks regarding great games and great performances by teams and individuals and we sure have had our share.  District XI has plenty of great high school athletes this year and a history of some of the best in the state.  Perhaps we will get into these in the future.
Until then, that’s Joe’s Take!

The SportsTalk Shop: 2014 Year-in-Review (Part 1)

December 17, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

Time is running out on the 2014 calendar, which means it’s time for our annual shows and “SportsTalk Shop” blog postings that look back at highlights from the past 12 months.  Each year we come up with new categories for our special “RCN SportsTalk” panelists to respond to on our show, which will air several times over the holiday season and also available on RCN On-Demand.  Here’s a look at this year’s topics; you are welcome to email ( your responses to these questions and maybe we’ll read your opinions on the show:

Best Running Back in Eastern PA this fall
Most Intriguing Team in 2014
Most Overplayed Story of 2014
Biggest “Oh My” Moment of 2014
Most Underrated Story of 2014
A “Shout-out” to one sports personality this year
Biggest Sign The Sports Apocalypse is Near
Sports Personality You Would Have Liked to See More of in 2014
Best & Worst Sports Decision Made in 2014
Something Witnessed in 2014 That You Hope To See Again
Best Performance By An Underclassmen
Biggest Turnaround in 2014
Most Lasting Image of 2014 (Local & National)

Then, for our last segment…looking ahead to 2015:

Toughest Coaching Challenge for 2015
One Team & Player to watch in 2015
Something “New” You’d Like to See in 2015
One Piece of Advice for an Athlete/Coach in 2015
“Stone-Cold” Lock To Happen 2015

Here are a few of my own responses to these topics (you’ll have to watch the show to get my takes on the rest of them).

For “Most Overplayed Story of 2014,” I have to target ESPN’s thrashing of the 76ers’ ‘tanking’ strategy.  It wasn’t enough that they have been poking fun at the team’s idea of losing on purpose so that they can acquire better draft picks and clear salary cap space to pave the way for a brighter future.  They’ve piled on by constantly putting them on their “Not Top 10” list and frequently ask their NBA analysts about the team’s pitiful plight, repeatedly asking their experts if this is the worst team of all time—in any sport!  If you want to hammer the organization for its theory—fine.  But what has annoyed me of late is that, when Magic Johnson suggests that his Lakers lose on purpose to follow the same idea, they fall over themselves praising his “ingenious” theory.

Hello…national hypocrites?  You can’t bash one team’s idea for months, then praise another team for the exact same idea just because you’re fans of the greatest Lakers player of all time.  Have some backbone and either stick with your initial opinion, or get off the Sixers’ collective backs and stop trashing them every chance you get.  Yes, we know they stink—and they’re good at being bad.  That’s the whole idea.  Stop reporting their losses like you’re surprised…and remember how much you criticized them if they are contending for a world title four or five…or six…years from now.

A “Shout-out” to one sports personality this year:  Salisbury’s girls basketball head coach, Joe Mladosich.  He not only earned his 200th coaching win this past year, but, like so many scholastic coaches, did it without the fanfare and publicity that other sports garnish.  In fact, Coach Mladosich tried to kept the approaching honor a secret from the team.  Most of his players didn’t even know when he was going to eclipse the milestone victory, and the few associated with the program who did know, he asked to keep it a secret.  I had a chance to speak with his girls and they all spoke highly of their coach and felt honored to be part of his program and his special victory.  When we interviewed him for “SportsTalk” about his accomplishment this past year, he was very unassuming about his success and instead placed the credit on his assistant coaches and his players.  On behalf of all the coaches who pass up self-promotion to put the spotlight on their team, I’d like to recognize Joe’s unselfish acts as my “shout-out” person of the year.

Most Intriguing Team in 2014.  No doubt for me…I’d have to go with the Becahi girls basketball program.  Very few Lehigh Valley teams in any sport had more success than the Hawks in 2014…only to see their head coach, Bill Lanscek, get the hook at the end of the season.  Becahi responded by hiring one of the brightest basketball minds in Megan Dellegrotti, fresh off multiple appearances (and wins) in the Colonial League Girls’ Basketball Championship game, only to have her resign less than two weeks before the start of the season.  I’m not going to speculate here on what’s going on with the program and their coaching staff.  I’ve heard tremendous things about their newest head coach, Jose Medina.  His team should again contend for a state title in 2015, but, unfortunately, the coaching storylines for this program made them my most intriguing squad from this past year.

Biggest “Oh My” Moment of 2014.  I’m going to have to cheat a little on this one and add an “s” to the word “moment.”  However, there were just too many highlights to separate just one from the games involving the Notre Dame and Catasauqua boys basketball teams (we’ll have highlights of these games on our TV show).  These two teams made for some of the most exhilarating moments of the year in both the Colonial League AND District XI 2A Championship games.  Half-court shots made at the buzzer, one player (Vincent Eze) blocking ten shots in a game, a last second rebound/game-winning basket (also by Eze), amazing baskets from Brandon Purrone, David Wetherhold, Dakota Shiffer, Tannor Reed and many others…all made for multiple great moments.  Throw-in the fact that the one championship game had to be rescheduled and came on the heels of our biggest snowstorm of the year AND came at the end of four consecutive broadcasts I did for RCN, definitely made for a memorable night.

Sports Personality You Would Have Liked to See More of in 2014.  Former Olympian, Spokesperson, Author, Coach and Humanitarian Joetta Clark Diggs was one of the many sports personalities that I was blessed to meet for the first time this past year, and was so fortunate to hear some of her stories and views on women sports issues this past year on our studio show.  She has very interesting views on many topics, runs camps that benefit local youths and recently published a new book.  In order to even start giving due to all of her accomplishments, I’m going to focus on her in an upcoming edition of the “SportsTalk Shop” early in 2015.

I’ll be on vacation for the next several days but be sure to check back as “SportsTalk” co-host Joe Craig will also share his thoughts looking back at the past year.  Also, check out our “year-in-review” show on RCN-TV and don’t forget to tune in to all of RCN’s special holiday programming and its Christmas Takeover.  My personal favorites are the “Jack Benny Christmas Special” and a true classic—the Jimmy Durante film, “A Christmas Wish.”  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone!

The SportsTalk Shop: Penn State and PIAA Recaps

December 10, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

I’d like to think we have “fireworks” on every edition of the “RCN SportsTalk” show in which we discuss a variety of different topics–sometimes of a controversial nature.  On last week’s program, however, we had not one, but two major blow-ups from both our panelists and from our phone callers, regarding two completely different subjects.  The two topics firing up people included our assessment of Penn State’s football season and a few questionable calls at the end of the PIAA state playoff game between St. Joe’s and Parkland high schools.  Here are two clips, back-to-back from last week’s show, which ignited the controversies.

Now, regarding the Penn State issue of which all of us on the show agreed that the Lions’ 6-6 record should be viewed as a “successful” year (the officials made sure they didn’t win a 7th game with a couple egregious calls late in their game against Ohio State).   Shortly after we made those statements, one of our phone callers, in no uncertain terms, blasted our opinions—stating that six wins against a handful of soft opponents should not garnish a positive review.  Furthermore, the caller stated that Penn State hasn’t beaten a top- five team in nearly thirty years and the team’s true “glory years” vanished in the 1980s.  He went on to criticize their scheduling several weaker non-conference games each season.

Here’s my take on issue #1.  When you consider what the Nittany Lions program has gone through over the last four years, you’d have to be happy with six wins and a bowl bid.  There’s no way to officially say how many quality football players the scandal has cost the program.  In addition to players who left or decided on another school, you had players like Mike Hull, Christian Hackenberg and others who rode out the sanctions having to deal with depth issues throughout their careers.  Players fought through and played with injuries because of that lack of depth, an inconsistent offensive line that put Hackenberg and other backs constantly under pressure from opposing defense…I could go on stating the trickle-down effects that permeated every facet of the team.  They were close to winning a few of their games against tougher opponents while soundly defeating programs that, as of this year, are step below Penn State (yes, I would have to thrown in my beloved Temple football team in this category).

Among many post-regular season accolades include Hull being named the Big Ten Linebacker of the Year and both Hull and Anthony Zettel named to the conference’s “first team.”  There were certainly success stories with the younger players on the team, and reason for even more optimism based on their “successful” play this fall.  Among the first-year players just named to’s “All-Freshmen Team”: safety Marcus Allen, tight end Mike Gesicki, wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton, offensive tackle Andrew Nelson and punter Daniel Pasquariello.  Despite the offensive struggles later in the year, all of these players improved as the season advanced and should be part of bigger and better things as the program continues to build itself back to a national presence.

To the issue of Penn State scheduling weaker teams: Penn State almost every year has to schedule at least seven home games to defray their enormous costs (this is due to budget issues which Morning Call’s Mark Wogenrich eluded to on our show).  Aside from the four Big Ten games that they must play, it’s pretty much impossible for one elite team—let along two or three additional teams–to grant an enormous (and costly) favor of playing the Lions at State College without having them return the favor the following season.  Penn State has to find up-and-coming programs (like my alums from Broad Street) to travel to Happy Valley to gain exposure.  These teams don’t match the status of a powerhouse team—one who, if Penn State defeated, would satisfy some fans’ requirement to call the season a success.  In my opinion, and with all the other issues Penn State is trying to put behind them, to expect something far beyond what happened this fall won’t be a possibility until 2016 at the earliest.  Until then, you must temper your expectations for the football program and give them props when they do make strides—like I still feel they made in 2014.

The second issue that fueled a heated argument on last week’s show involved a few controversial calls at the end of the Parkland/St. Joe’s state high school playoff football game.   I myself was at another game that day and did not watch it live—and instead received a biased review of the calls well before I had a chance to sit down and watch a replay of it for myself through RCN On Demand.  I must admit that I agree with all of our RCN commentators –  Gary Laubach, Mike Joseph, Tony Cocca and “SportsTalk” co-host Joe Craig—all vehemently saying on-air that they hated (and that’s using a ‘kind’ verb) the calls.  Clearly, the officials made a few incorrect decisions at crucial times.  However, I would like to address an aspect of this controversy that I haven’t heard anyone talk about since the program.

I think an enormous amount of credit should be given to Parkland for the class they demonstrated with regards to the controversial calls—all of which severely hampered them from winning the game. Head Coach Jim Morgans was furious with the calls and expressed his disappointment after they occurred.  But I’ve run into a number of coaches—both past and present—who admitted they probably would have gone ballistic if they were on that sideline and had those calls made against them at key moments in a huge game.  If Parkland won that game, it would have been an historic victory for the District XI football community.  It would have kept alive the team’s drive for a state championship.  But even with an extreme level of disappointment following the calls, the players, coaches and staff all handled themselves in a respectful manner.

There was no formal protest.  No website created to replay the controversial calls and ask people for their opinions.  No continuing, angry sound bites in the local media.  They were upset.  They were angry…but they kept themselves under control.

Clearly, they would have preferred to win the game and advance to the state semifinal game.  But all things considered, Parkland had an excellent season on the field, and showed championship-level class in the days that followed an incredibly  disappointing, and unfortunate, loss.  But one of the great things about sports is the character-building aspect that can be an even better learning experience.

What are your thoughts on Penn State’s season and the PIAA playoffs? Email your comments to and join us each Thursday at 6pm as we discuss more hot topics each week!

The SportsTalk Shop: HS Football Playoffs Recap

December 2, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

It was another interesting high school football playoff season, with plenty of drama, surprises and exciting finishes.  Today, we take a look at the bigger schools in the Lehigh Valley and their playoff runs in the district and state tournaments (more comments and opinions of this year’s high school football season, as well as Penn State football talk, on this Thursday’s “RCN SportsTalk” show—live at 6pm).

Class 4A
Among the most anticipated match-ups of the District XI players was the rematch of Freedom and Whitehall.  Both teams had outstanding 2014 campaigns and their contest during the regular season ended in overtime with a thrilling, come-from-behind victory by the Patriots.  The playoff match-up was also very competitive, with Freedom continuing its amazing turnaround season with a win over the Zephyrs.

The Patriots, as we have discussed in earlier posts this fall, were one of the most remarkable stories in Pennsylvania this season, bouncing back from a 2-8 season last year to advancing into the quarterfinals of the District 2/4/11 sub-regionals before losing to Easton.

The Rovers were another great story this year.  While the pre-season prognosticators had Easton picked anywhere from second to fifth (and don’t think for a moment that the players and coaches were not aware of those ‘lower’ expectations), one of PA’s most successful programs ran through a very tough Eastern Pennsylvania Conference without a blemish, and continued to look solid in its quarterfinal game against Pleasant Valley (the Bears were making their second consecutive district playoff appearance).

After losing to Whitehall midway through the regular season, Parkland dropped off the radar—well, as much as they can due to their decades-long success—and opened the sub-regional playoffs as the seventh-seeded team having to travel outside the Lehigh Valley to advance in the playoffs.

While the Trojans didn’t appear as dominant offensively as they might have in previous years, they were solid enough and teamed with a smothering defense to topple Easton in overtime and earn their third consecutive District XI championship.

Parkland became just the third school since 1993 to “three-peat” as consecutive District XI football champ in ANY of the area’s classifications.  With quarterback DeVante Cross and many more talented players coming back in 2015, look for the red-and-silver again to be right in, or above, the elite teams when next season comes around.

Bethlehem Catholic was once again the favorite heading into this year’s District XI 3A tourney, and certainly was on a mission to prove that it was the best team in the classification this year.  They had plenty of motivation:   a tighter-than-expected win in last year’s district playoffs, a quicker-than-expected exit in the state playoffs in 2013, a disappointing loss to Stroudsburg destroying their hopes of a perfect season this fall and, oh, yeah, the initial report that they were going to be excluded from the new league.

Despite any potential distractions, the players went out and clearly took care of business in both the opening round of the districts and the PIAA playoffs.

Two of the most exciting games I got a chance to call on RCN TV all year were the two games played between Saucon Valley and Southern Lehigh.  In the first matchup, the Panthers jumped out to a huge lead and then hung on to beat the Spartans.  In their second contest, with the right to move on to the District 3A title game up for grabs, the roles were reversed, with the Spartans taking a big lead early.  However, that didn’t stop Saucon Valley from making for an exciting finish.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Saucon Valley as the 2015 favorite in the Colonial League.  However, they weren’t very happy, as were quite a few area football fans, by the end of their 3A championship game against Becahi.

There were some interesting comments about the ending of the game, and some of the late-game actions and post-game comments did not sit well with each other’s fan base.  It would certainly be interesting to see a rematch between these two programs next year…but, well, let’s just enjoy the holiday season for now and some other sports action before we start going there!

Don’t forget, you can relive all of these teams’ biggest playoff games by watching them again, for free, on RCN On Demand.  These games will be available to watch for two months following their initial airdates, and you can purchase DVD copies of the games as well by contacting us at RCN.  And don’t forget to join us on next week’s “SportsTalk” show as we’ll feature some of the state championship teams on our Thursday program.

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