Bellwood-Antis High School girls basketball standout Alli Campbell was only a sophomore during the 2017-18 season, but she had already been offered scholarships by more than 35 NCAA Division I college programs before verbally committing to defending NCAA Division I women’s champion Notre Dame University this past Sept. 10.
Campbell is one of the rare talents who can take over a game all by herself, and she showcased that skill exquisitely on Monday afternoon, March 26 in the PIAA Class 2A girls state basketball championship game at Hershey’s Giant Center, scoring 34 points to lead Bellwood to a 45-42 victory over West Catholic of Philadelphia.
It was a history-making event in Bellwood, marking the school’s first state basketball championship ever, and was one of the Mirror’s top scholastic sports stories for the 2018 calendar year.
Four other area sports programs — the Bedford girls soccer team, Northern Cambria girls volleyball team, the Central Cambria girls cross country team, and the Philipsburg-Osceola softball team — all won PIAA championships in 2018.
Three of the area’s coaching icons, Bellwood-Antis football coach John Hayes, Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic Lady Marauders basketball coach Mark Moschella, and Altoona Area High School girls track and field coach Steve Rhodes, all announced their retirements in 2018, each marking the end of long and distinguished coaching eras.
The year also brought continued success for the Penn State University wrestling team, which won its third straight NCAA team championship and its seventh in the last eight seasons.
The Saint Francis University women’s basketball team, led by junior Jessica Kovatch, won the Northeast Conference championship and made its first appearance in the NCAA tournament in seven years, but long-time head coach Joe Haigh requested and was granted a leave of absence in mid-November for unspecified personal reasons.
On another front, outfielder Andrew McCutchen — who had been the face of the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise almost since his arrival from the minor leagues in 2009 — was traded to the San Francisco Giants in January, marking the end of an era in Pirates’ baseball.
To the surprise of almost nobody, Penn State’s outstanding running back, Saquon Barkley, announced right before the start of the 2018 calendar year that he would make himself eligible for the 2018 National Football League draft. Barkley was taken by the New York Giants with the second overall pick in April.
The Pittsburgh Panthers football team made it to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game for the first time ever. Although the Panthers lost a 42-10 decision there to College Football Playoff qualifier Clemson, the accomplishment of reaching the conference title game was perhaps the biggest highlight to date in Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi’s coaching tenure.
Following is a look at the top sports stories:
B-A girls win PIAA basketball title
The Bellwood girls basketball team brought glory to its tiny Blair County town by winning the Class 2A state championship behind Campbell’s heroics.
Campbell showed her versatility inside the paint and behind the 3-point line, scoring the go-ahead basket on a 3-point shot from the right corner with 2:19 left to play that gave Bellwood the lead for good, 40-39 over District 12 champion West Catholic.
The five starters –Campbell, senior Tina Hollen, junior Riley D’Angelo, and sophomores Sakeria Haralson and Emilie Leidig — all played the entire 32 minutes in the championship game for Bellwood, which finished the season with a 28-3 record.
Haralson — a transfer from Altoona Area High School who verbally committed to play collegiate basketball at Division I Monmouth last June — collected 14 rebounds in the state championship win.
Campbell, who averaged 26.4 points per game last season, was named the PA Sports Writers All-State Class 2A girls basketball Player of the Year, while Bellwood coach Jim Swaney was named the Class 2A girls basketball Coach of the Year.
Monmouth was the first Division I school to offer Campbell a full scholarship in October 2016. Others who followed included 2017 national champion South Carolina, and Campbell also drew interest from Penn State, Stanford, Duke, Pitt, Boston College, Michigan, and Michigan State.
Campbell made an unofficial visit to Notre Dame in June, and was shown Notre Dame’s national championship trophy there by Fighting Irish coach Muffet McGraw.
Last March’s PIAA title victory marked sweet redemption for a Bellwood program which had also made an appearance in the PIAA Class 1A state championship game in 1990, but lost, 54-40 to Pottsville Nativity.
With four starters, including Campbell, returning for the 2018-19 season, Bellwood has a strong chance to defend its championship.
The Juniata Valley girls had their hearts broken in the PIAA Class 1A state championship game for the second straight season last March 27.
The Lady Hornets, who lost to Lebanon Catholic in the 2017 state championship game, watched Jenkintown rally from a nine-point deficit with under four minutes left in the game to tie the score, 38-38 on a 3-point shot with 16 seconds left that forced overtime.
Jenkintown, the District 1 champion with a 31-1 record, carried the overtime session, 13-8 and secured the state championship trophy with a 51-46 victory.
Juniata Valley, the District 6 champions, finished the season with a 26-4 record. The Lady Hornets, because of student enrollment, are competing at the Class 2A level this season.
Hayes, Moschella, Rhodes retire
The 2018 calendar year brought the curtain down on three of the area’s most distinguished coaching tenures. Hayes’ retirement as Bellwood-Antis’ long-time football coach and athletic director was announced on April 27, Moschella’s announced his departure as the Bishop Guilfoyle Lady Marauders’ basketball coach on May 18, and Rhodes announced his departure in late May.
Hayes, 71, had served as Bellwood’s head football coach for the past 38 seasons and the school’s athletic director for the past 37.
In his 38 seasons as football coach, Hayes’ teams compiled a record of 323-103, six undefeated regular seasons, and an appearance in the PIAA’s Final Four on three different occasions. Bellwood had only four non-winning seasons in Hayes’ long coaching tenure.
Nick Lovrich, a long-time football assistant coach on Hayes’ staff, was promoted to head coach.
Moschella, 64, retired as the Bishop Guilfoyle girls basketball coach after 26 seasons, four state championships, and 603 victories — the most achieved by any coach in Blair County history.
Moschella coached the Lady Marauders to PIAA Class 1A state championships in 1993, 2007, 2009 and 2010. Five other BG girls teams were state runners-up under the direction of Moschella.
Moschella was replaced on the BG bench by Kristi (Little) Kaack, who had served seven seasons as the head women’s basketball coach at Mount Aloysius College.
Rhodes, 63, retired as Altoona Area’s girls track and field coach after 25 years. Rhodes coached 10 years at Roosevelt before taking over at Altoona in 1993, and as Altoona’s coach, he compiled a record of 168-39-1, won four District 6 team championships, and coached one individual state champion in Rachel Gehret, along with 89 District 6 champions.
A replacement for Rhodes has yet to be named.
Pirates trade McCutchen
The Pittsburgh Pirates marked the end of an era in mid-January by trading center fielder Andrew McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants for two players.
McCutchen, a five-time National League all-star and 2013 NL Most Valuable Player, was due to become a free agent after the 2018 season and had been the subject of trade rumors since the 2016 offseason before a trade finally came to fruition.
McCutchen had been regarded as the face of the Pirates’ franchise and the cornerstone behind the club’s renaissance back to respectability after leading the Bucs to three straight playoff appearances in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons following the franchise’s American major sports-record 20 consecutive losing seasons.
McCutchen was traded on Jan. 15 for minor-league outfielder Bryan Reynolds and middle relief pitcher Kyle Crick, just two days after starting pitcher Gerrit Cole — generally considered the ace of the Pirates’ staff — was sent to the Houston Astros in exchange for four players, including starting pitcher Joe Musgrove and starting third baseman Colin Moran.
McCutchen was later traded to the New York Yankees in August, before signing a three-year free-agent contract with the Philadelphia Phillies in mid-December.
The Pirates termed the trades a “retooling” instead of a rebuilding process, and made a couple big trade acquisitions themselves at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, picking up veteran pitcher Chris Archer from the Tampa Bay Rays and highly-touted reliever Keone Kela from the Texas Rangers.
Saint Francis women reach NCAA tourney
Last season was a special one for the Saint Francis women’s basketball team, which won the Northeast Conference championship and qualified for the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011.
Led by 2,000-point career scorer Jessica Kovatch, a junior who was named the conference’s Most Valuable Player, Saint Francis claimed its NEC-best 12th tournament championship with a 66-56 win over Robert Morris in the NEC title game March 11 at DeGol Arena.
Kovatch scored a game-high 29 points in the championship win, which put Saint Francis in the NCAA tournament opposite top-ranked Connecticut in the tournament’s first round. Although Saint Francis lost on Connecticut’s home floor, 140-52 on March 17, it did nothing to tarnish what was a very memorable season for the Red Flash.
Saint Francis, which opened the NEC tournament with victories over Fairleigh Dickinson and Sacred Heart, before beating Robert Morris, closed the year with a 24-10 record behind Kovatch’s 24.4 points-per-game scoring average that ranked her second behind Megan Gustafson of Iowa (25.7) among NCAA Division I women’s basketball players nationally last season.
Saint Francis will be under the direction of interim coach Susan Robinson-Fruchtl this season while Haigh is on leave.
Robinson-Fruchtl is also the athletic director at Saint Francis, and she served as the school’s women’s head basketball coach from 2007-12, leading the Red Flash to the NCAA tournament in 2010 and 2011.
Haigh had been Robinson-Fruchtul’s assistant coach with SFU and was hired to succeed her when Robinson-Fruchtl accepted the women’s head basketball coaching position at Providence University. She returned to Saint Francis after accepting the athletic director’s position there in 2016.
Penn State matmen extend reign
The Penn State wrestling program continued its dynasty in 2018, capturing its third straight NCAA team championship and seventh in the past eight years while crowning four individual champions March 17 at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena.
Zain Retherford (149 pounds), Jason Nolf (157), Vincenzo Joseph (165) and Bo Nickal (184) each captured individual championships for Penn State, which won the team title with 141.5 points by narrowly nosing out runner-up Ohio State (133.5).
Retherford won the third individual title of his career by defeating Lock Haven State University’s Ronnie Perry, 6-2 in the 149-pound championship match, while Nickal clinched the team title for Penn State by pinning Ohio State’s Myles Martin at the 2:29 mark in the 184-pound championship bout.
Nickal, Nolf and Joseph each won their second national championships, with Nolf defeating Mifflin County High School product Hayden Hidlay, 6-2 in the 157-pound title match and Joseph topping Isaiah Martinez of Illinois, 6-1 for the 165-pound title.
Hidlay is now competing at North Carolina State.
Mark Hall finished second for Penn State at 174 pounds, dropping an 8-2 title decision to Arizona State’s Zahid Valencial.
Short of helping his team win a national championship, running back Saquon Barkley did all that he could possibly accomplish in his three seasons at Penn State.
He did what was universally expected last January, foregoing his final season of college eligibility and announcing that he would declare himself eligible for the National Football League draft in April.
Barkley was taken by the New York Giants with the second overall pick in the draft. The Cleveland Browns took University of Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield with the top pick.
Barkley finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting, narrowly missing a trip to the ceremony in New York City, after rushing for 1,271 yards and 18 touchdowns as a junior, catching 54 passes for 632 yards and three touchdowns, and returning two kickoffs for scores.
Led by senior quarterback Trace McSorley — who became Penn State’s all-time passing yards leader — the 2018 Penn State team posted a 9-3 record this past season and earned a berth against Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla. on New Year’s Day.
In his four-year career at Penn State, McSorley has thrown for 9,654 yards and 75 touchdowns.
ACC title game
The Pitt football team reached the Atlantic Coast Conference title game for the first time ever, losing 42-10 to second-ranked Clemson Dec. 1 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
Pitt, 7-6 during the season, was led by the senior rushing tandem of backs Quadree Ollison (189 carries, 1,190 yards, 11 touchdowns) and Darrin Hall (137 carries, 1,021 yards, nine touchdowns).
Pitt sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett threw for 1,833 yards and 12 touchdowns on 169 completions in 281 passing attempts.
Pitt faces Stanford in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Tex. on Monday afternoon.
win NIT tournament
Ordinarily, when a team comes up short of qualifying for the NCAA tournament, it hasn’t been thought to have had a successful season.
That wasn’t necessarily the case for the Penn State men’s basketball team last March. The Nittany Lions were on the NCAA bubble but did not receive an invitation to the Big Dance on Selection Sunday.
Penn State, however, was invited to the National Invitational Tournament, and made the most of that opportunity.
The Nittany Lions ran off five consecutive victories en route to winning their first NIT title since 2009. Penn State, seeded fourth in the tournament, clinched the championship with an 82-66 win over second-seeded Utah on March 29 at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Sophomore Lamar Stevens scored 28 points in the championship victory, while junior Josh Reaves scored 18 points and sophomore standout Tony Carr scored 15 points and dished out 14 assists.
Carr would later forego his final two seasons of college eligibility and declare himself available for the National Basketball Association draft in June. He was drafted in the second round, with the 51st overall pick, by the New Orleans Pelicans.
Carr is currently playing professional basketball in Italy, but the Pelicans have retained the right to sign him for the 2019-20 season if they choose to do so.
Penn State finished last season with a 26-13 record and NIT wins over Temple at home, and top-seeded Notre Dame and Marquette on the road that earned the Nittany Lions a berth in the semifinals at Madison Square Garden.
Penn State defeated Mississippi State handily in the semifinals, setting up the championship-game matchup with Utah.
Pitt fires basketball coach Stallings
Kevin Stallings’ career as the University of Pittsburgh men’s basketball coach was brief and miserable.
Stallings was fired on March 8 after Pitt experienced its worst season in its basketball history, winning just eight of 32 overall games and finishing 0-19 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Stallings went just 24-41 in his two seasons at Pitt after replacing Jamie Dixon in March of 2016. Dixon, who led Texas Christian University into the NCAA tournament last March, perennially coached Pitt into the Big Dance during his coaching tenure with the Panthers.
But Stallings did not come anywhere close to carrying on the torch, and was fired after just two seasons.
Pitt named Duke assistant coach Jeff Capel to replace Stallings on March 27.
Bedford girls win
PIAA soccer title
Led by senior standout Amber Thomas, the Bedford girls soccer team wrapped up a perfect 22-0 season with a 1-0 victory over Lewisburg in the PIAA Class 2A state championship game at Hersheypark Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 17.
Thomas scored her 145th career goal on a penalty kick 52 seconds into the first overtime period to earn Bedford the gold medal. The penalty kick was awarded after Bedford’s Abigail Donaldson was tripped in the opening minute of the overtime session following a scoreless 80 minutes of regulation play.
Thomas calmly buried her game-winning shot just to the right of Lewisburg goalkeeper Lauren Goss to clinch the title for Bedford, which had lost in the PIAA Class 2A semifinals in both of the past two seasons.
Northern Cambria spikers win state gold
Also on Nov. 17, the Northern Cambria girls volleyball program captured its third PIAA Class 1A state title since 2005 with a 25-13, 22-25, 25-20, 25-22 win over Berlin Brothersvalley at Cumberland Valley High School in Mechanicsburg.
Sophomore outside hitter Maggie Hogan scored 26 total kills for Northern Cambria, including eight in the first set, five in the second set, seven in the third set and six in the fourth set. The Lady Colts were making their fifth appearance in the PIAA state finals since 2004. They had won state titles in 2005 and 2009.
Northern Cambria, which posted a 21-2 season record, lost to Bishop Carroll in three straight sets in the District 6 Class 1A championship match but avenged that setback with a win over Carroll in three straight sets in the PIAA Class 1A semifinals.
PIAA softball title
The Philipsburg Osceola High School softball team won its third PIAA championship, as the Lady Mounties captured the Class 3A title with an 8-3 victory over Holy Redeemer of District 2 on Thursday, June 14 at the Penn State University’s Beard Field at Nittany Lion Softball Park.
Junior pitcher Kam Harris threw a complete-game victory, scattering eight hits, striking out eight, and walking none, while also helping P-O at the plate in the championship game by driving in two runs.
P-O, which also won state titles in 2007 and 2011, finished the season with a record of 25-1 — tying the program record for season victories. P-O also won 25 games in 2010 and 2011.
Along with the three state titles, head coach Jim Gonder now has 665 victories to his credit in his 36 seasons as P-O’s coach.
Central Cambria girls run to PIAA team title
The Central Cambria girls cross country team won the PIAA Class 2A team championship at the state meet held at Hershey’s Parkview Course on Saturday, Nov. 3.
The Central Cambria girls won their fifth PIAA title by scoring 92 points to best second-place Danville (105 points) in the team race.
Central Cambria was led by freshman Stella Kuntz’s ninth-place all-state finish in 19:44. Teammate Paige Wess, a senior, registered a time of 20:04, which earned her all-state status and an 11th-place finish.
Portage freshman Lauren Shaffer had the best individual finish of any area runner in the PIAA meet, taking second place in the PIAA Class 1A girls race with a time of 19:51.
Three area wrestlers take PIAA silver
Three area wrestlers — Altoona senior Parker McClellan (220 pounds), Chestnut Ridge senior Justin McCoy (152) and Glendale freshman Brock McMillen (113) — made it to championship matches in the PIAA Wrestling Championships March 10 at Hershey’s Giant Center, where each lost and wound up with a second-place silver medal.
McCoy, a University of Virginia commit who won the Class 2A 145-pound state title as a junior, made it to the finals for the second year in a row before losing an 8-1 decision to Thayne Lawrence of Frazier High School in last March’s 152-pound title match.
McMillen was bidding to become Glendale’s first-ever state champion but lost a 7-3 decision to Mount Union’s Josh Boozel in the Class 2A 113-pound title match. Even so, McMillen — who upended returning state champion Beau Bayless of Reynolds in the semifinals — became just Glendale’s second state finalist ever, joining Tom Ross, who appeared in and lost what was the Class 2A 185-pound championship match back in 1986.
McClellan achieved the distinction of becoming the third Altoona wrestler since 2015 to earn a berth in a state championship match and finish second. McClellan represented the Mirror coverage area in the Class 3A finals, dropping a 7-5 championship decision to Sun Valley’s Hunter Catka at 220 pounds.
Julius Walters, 88, Hollidaysburg Area High School’s first PIAA wrestling champion; Former National Football League coach Chuck Knox, 86, a graduate of Juniata College; Long-time District 6 high school basketball official Dave Heim, 86; George B. Kelley Federation President Tom Stout, 82; Former National Basketball Association, Wake Forest University and Portage High School basketball standout Len Chappell, 77; Former long-time Philipsburg-Osceola High School assistant wrestling coach Dick Condo, 71, who also served tenures as head coach at West Branch and assistant coach at Tyrone; Bruce Kison, 68, a pitcher on both the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 1971 and 1979 World Championship teams; Dave Baronner, 67, long-time District 6 high school and football basketball official … Former Penn State women’s basketball coach Rene Portland, 65; Former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Gabe Rivera, 57; Former University of Pittsburgh and Atlanta Falcons’ lineman Bill Fralic, 56; Former Saint Francis University basketball standout Jeff Hamilton, 55; Former Everett High School football coach Tom Waltman, 54; Former Altoona Curve and Pittsburgh Pirates player Jose Castillo, 37; Former Altoona Area High School soccer player Amanda Schmitt, 31 … Former Philipsburg-Osceola basketball, softball and volleyball player Taylor Harpster, 27 … Former Altoona High School baseball player Cody Henderson, 25; former Bishop Carroll High School football player David Kephart, 25; Glendale Area High School football player David Rydbom, 17.