NEPA Sports Nation

Nine interesting winter openers

Pictured above: Riverside and Holy Redeemer, last season’s District 2 Class 3A finalists, are in two of Friday night’s most intriguing season openers. (Tim Drewes Photo)

The winter sports season gets underway this weekend, beginning with some basketball tournament games that start Friday afternoon.

Here’s a look at what could be the nine most interesting openers on the winter schedule.

BOYS BASKETBALL: Carbondale at Elk Lake

Two programs with storied basketball histories that include state championships meet in the 46th annual Red Wallace Memorial Scholarship Game.

Elk Lake has just one starter back from two-time defending Lackawanna League Division 4 champions.

Carbondale is trying to work its way back after recent down years.

The game honors the memory of Wallace, an original Boston Celtic, who played at Fell Township, which is now part of the Carbondale Area School District. Wallace went on to coach Elk Lake to two Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association state championships.

Wallace died shortly after his 1976-77 Elk Lake team posted the best record in state history, going 36-0.

GIRLS BASKETBALL: Abington Heights at Hazleton Area

Programs that frequently battled for District 2 Big School bragging rights when they were in the same classification open in the second of two Friday semifinals at the Lady Cougar Tip-Off Tournament.

Abington Heights is the defending district champion in Class 5A.

Hazleton Area played in the District 2-4 Class 6A Subregional championship game.

Both teams open the season among the top Big Schools in the Riverfront Sports Super Six Basketball Power Rankings of District 2 teams.

Host Hazleton Area is ranked fourth and Abington Heights is fifth.

BOYS BASKETBALL: Tunkhannock at Scranton Prep

Another game featuring two ranked Big Schools sends Tunkhannock, projected by opposing coaches to move into serious contention for the Wyoming Valley Conference Division 1 title, to Scranton Prep, which has played in eight straight state tournaments.

Tunkhannock opens the season ranked fourth while Scranton Prep is sixth.

Both teams have shown the tendency to get up and down the floor in the past and with many capable shooters, the potential for a high-scoring opener exists.

BOYS BASKETBALL: Riverside at Wyoming Valley West

Two teams that are each a bit of a mystery because of injuries open against each other for the second straight season, playing at Wyoming Valley West Friday night.

As last season ended, Riverside could have been projected as one of this season’s most promising teams.

Gerry Rose, coming off a standout freshman year, however, is out for the season.

With starters Frankie Antoniacci, Anthony Karpinski and Matthew Godlewski still returning, Riverside still has the potential to maintain its recent status as consistent contender in Lackawanna League Division 3, frequently the toughest and deepest of the district’s Small School divisions. The Vikings have been to the District 2 Class 3 final the last three seasons and won the title in 2021.

Wyoming Valley West’s size and athleticism concern opponents, but the Spartans never put it all together in a 2021-22 season disrupted by injuries. They were the only District 2 Class 5A team to miss the playoffs last season.

BOYS BASKETBALL: Holy Redeemer at Wilkes-Barre Area

Wilkes-Barre’s two teams square off in the second semifinal of the inaugural Wilkes-Barre Area Tip-Off Tournament.

Expect an entertaining and fast-paced game when Holy Redeemer takes the court for the first time since losing by a point in overtime in last season’s state Class 3A semifinals.

The Royals will test themselves against a Class 6A opponent playing its first game with Jim Lavan as head coach.

Lavan did run the team at times last season when Pat Toole was unavailable for health reasons.

BOYS BASKETBALL: Blue Ridge vs. Wyalusing Valley

Brent Keyes brings his defending District 4 Class 2A champion Rams home to Susquehanna for the second Friday game of the Susquehanna-Bradford County Challenge.

Keyes played at Susquehanna where his father, Bob, also played and coached.

Blue Ridge is regarded as the favorite in Lackawanna League Division 4 and opens the season ranked sixth among Small Schools in the Super Six.

WRESTLING: Gary Woodruff Memorial Duals

There are stronger tournament fields overall as some of District 2’s top teams scatter around the state for a busy opening weekend.

The best chance to get a read on a large number of district teams, however, comes at Wyalusing Valley in the Saturday tournament that includes Blue Ridge, Elk Lake, Montrose, Nanticoke, Pittston Area, Scranton Prep, Valley View, Wallenpaupack and Wyoming Area along with teams from Districts 4, 6 and 11.

GIRLS BASKETBALL: Dallas vs. Honesdale

Vince Bucciarelli returns to a head coaching role Saturday afternoon for his 1,000th career game when Dallas opens defense of its Mike Duda Tournament title at Wyoming Valley West in a rematch of last season’s final.

Bucciareli, who developed a powerhouse program at Abington Heights, spent last season as an assistant at Scranton Prep after serving as a head coach at Mid Valley. He has a 650-349 career record.

There will be a veteran coach on the other bench as well.

Ron Rowe, who spent three decades as coach of the Honesdale boys, stayed active in the sport on lower levels before returning for what is now his fourth season as head girls coach.

BOYS BASKETBALL: Wyoming Area at Pittston Area

Defending District 2 Class 5A champion Pittston Area has dominated the series in the 18th annual Eugene R. DeMinico II Memorial Game, which will be played Saturday night.

The gap between the rivals may have closed, however, with Pittston Area replacing the bulk of its championship lineup and Wyoming Area, led by Dane Schutter, bringing most of its back.

DeMinico, a Pittston Township police officer and decorated veteran for his service in Iraq, was killed in a motorcycle accident in November, 2005.

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